What, exactly, is McMackin doing in Japan?


POSTED: Sunday, March 01, 2009

Junket is a word that folks in power, especially those in control of taxpayer money, hate to hear.

Talking with University of Hawaii athletic director Jim Donovan the other day, I mentioned that is how some folks will view the marketing trip to Japan that he and football coach Greg McMackin are on. Watchdogs are watching closer than ever since the economy in general is so bad and the UH athletic department finds itself in a hole destined to get deeper before shallower.

Donovan quickly explains that no state funds are being used to finance the venture. I don't doubt this to be true technically. But it doesn't mean state resources aren't being expended. McMackin is the state's highest paid employee at $1.1 million a year, and Donovan is the leader of a department with an annual budget close to $30 million. So what they do with their working time is of prime interest, or should be, not just to UH football fans but to everyone in the state. I know Donovan agrees with this, because he says it all the time. Everyone's a stakeholder—that's his mantra.

In fairness, there are many worse times during the year than now to be away from matters in Manoa.

And I don't think this trip is a junket or boondoggle, or whatever you want to call it. I see it as a worthwhile marketing venture that could very well bring in some revenue to cash-strapped UH while also benefiting the state overall. Donovan and McMackin, in addition to speaking to coaches and administrators, say they have some teams that are willing to pay UH to come here and learn more about football.

The problem is general public perception.

For your typical football fan, annual visits to American Samoa make sense. Plenty of potential future Warriors there. Also, the joint venture last year with June Jones' SMU staff doubled as a medical mission, so who can argue with that?

And Australia appears to be the cradle of UH punters.

Japan? Another matter.

Jones shared Donovan's longtime vision of an Asia full of Warrior fans and made some visits to Japan to spread the gospel. He got Fresno State coach Pat Hill on board, too, even talking about a game there.

McMackin said his eyes were opened when he was with the 49ers and Masafumi Kawaguchi drew a throng of Japanese media in brief summer camp stints.

“;You see what's happened in Seattle and Boston, and it makes you think of the possibilities,”; he said.

But that's baseball, which has a big head start on football in the land of the rising fastball, defending champions of the World Baseball Classic.

We've heard for nearly 10 years that the popularity of football is exploding in Japan, but we've yet to see its first great player, or even one good enough to make the pros. (In case you're wondering, Haruki Nakamura of the Ravens was born in Cleveland, and Scott Fujita of the Saints is Caucasian and the adopted son of a Japanese-American father.)

McMackin intends to find him, and get him to Hawaii. This isn't an actual recruiting trip, but relationships developed now could pay off later.

In the meantime, he and Donovan work on making the Warriors into Japan's team.

“;Even in hard times, you have to think long term. If we're going to be more than we are now, we have to expand beyond Hawaii,”; Donovan said. “;Look at what Notre Dame's done—they're a national brand.”;

Hawaii's marketing opportunity is a step beyond—it's international.

As for the Ichiro or Daisuke of football? He might not even be born yet.