Tough calls by predecessor will lighten workload for Donovan
AS Jim Donovan prepares for a triumphant return to a building he left nearly six years ago, the first folks he should thank are Herman Frazier and his former staff.
Some have suggested that the athletic department handed off to Frazier was in fine financial shape, but that's simplifying it a bit. In 2002, the budget was a paltry $16 million, barely enough to be considered a Division I program.
The $1.9 million shortfall in Hugh Yoshida's final year as athletic director was offset by money made in previous campaigns -- fondly called a rainy-day fund. Frazier could have used that cash as a starting point to put UH's house in order.
Instead, years of doing nothing but cutting back and asking more of those left behind kept Frazier in the starting blocks as he addressed all the red ink. He asked his boss for an $18 million budget straight away to help defray the long overdue raises for former UH coaches June Jones and Riley Wallace.
Donovan's predecessor also had the unpopular task of restructuring season-ticket packages, particularly for football, to slow down the financial drain. That was an issue former head football coach Bob Wagner raised following the 1992 Holiday Bowl season, but nobody listened.
A lot was made of Frazier's bungling of the 2007 football schedule that eventually led Hawaii to the Sugar Bowl. But real Division I programs have their dance cards filled out anywhere from five to seven years down the road. In fairness, the previous regime is equally responsible.
Loose language in the football contracts allowed schools to cancel their island plans with little or no cost to them. Schools dropped out one by one, especially after Jones was hired, eventually leaving Frazier -- who is not without blame here -- with fewer options. The incoming schedules are in solid enough shape. They give Donovan time to fill the one hole in 2009 and the two in 2010. This season and 2011 are complete.
THE NEW AD also won't be faced with the inherent challenges of raising the budget from $16 million in 2002 -- the last year Donovan served as associate athletic director -- to $26.5 million this season.
You can't expand a department that quickly -- more than $10 million in five-plus years -- and expect ticket revenues alone to cover the freight. The first two years were brutal for Frazier, but his deficit spending leveled off his last couple of years in office, putting the program on better financial footing.
Donovan won't have to worry about hiring a new football or men's basketball coach, either. And instead of taking nearly $2 million from the rainy-day fund to say, "Hey look, we balanced the books," Donovan gets a $2 million check from the WAC this summer; a nice benefit courtesy of the Sugar Bowl.
He won't have to galvanize the Legislature, ask for new turf at Les Murakami Stadium, complain about the rent at Aloha Stadium, or present a plan to restore Cooke Field. That's done, done, done and done.
That's not to say problems don't still exist. Donovan's plate is full, but his starting point is a lot better than Frazier's and offers him a real shot at success without all the heavy lifting.
Sports Editor Paul Arnett
has been covering sports for the Star-Bulletin since 1990. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org