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Wednesday, October 01, 2014         

FERD'S WORDS


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Coolen's raise could be a sign of UH softball changes to come

By Ferd Lewis

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You could read the salary adjustment headed University of Hawaii softball coach Bob Coolen's way as a reward for work well done.

And, coming off the Rainbow Wahine's first trip to the College World Series in 2010, it is certainly that.

But in boosting Coolen's pay to the proposed milestone $100,000 mark, the impending raise also says a lot about the plans the athletic department has for its rising softball program.

After all, you don't push plans to give the coach of a so-called nonrevenue team a six-figure paycheck without having a blueprint to recoup some of that money somewhere along the line. You don't ask the UH president to expand the established softball salary range without restructuring the vision for the program, too.

It is telling that the only school in the current Western Athletic Conference that pays its coach more than $87,000 (Coolen's current pay) is Fresno State, where Margie Wright reportedly receives $145,000 — more than double the WAC average of $71,000.

But, then, the Bulldogs have for decades set the bar, averaging better than 1,200 fans per home game the past three years and leading the NCAA in home attendance 10 times in the past 16 years. Not to mention winning a national championship and appearing in every NCAA tournament field.

UH averages 766 fans per game and, unlike the Bulldogs, does not currently charge admission. But you can see where that figures to be changing sooner rather than later as an example of how the view of its program is shifting.

For several years the thought has been that a contributing reason to UH softball drawing as well as it does is entrance being free. Coolen likes to cite a "curiosity factor" for how the Rainbow Wahine have attracted some of their following. Fans on their way to baseball or other events look to see what the noise is about, stop in and become followers.

And as the Rainbow Wahine have become more successful, winning WAC titles and progressing into the postseason, the feeling was that the turnout helped give UH a decided home-field advantage. One that was feared might be lost if there was an admission charge levied.

But with the gains by the Rainbow Wahine on the field and an expanding following, UH officials have been eyeing the revenue potential in softball. At a school that has operated at an annual deficit eight of the previous nine fiscal years and been challenged to operate more like a business by the Board of Regents, you apparently embrace potential cash flow where you can find it.

And you build on it, when you can. Which is part of why, we're told, athletic director Jim Donovan has apparently been talking to the powers that be about putting some capital improvement money toward upgrading Rainbow Wahine Softball Stadium.

The kind of improvements aimed at not only helping the Rainbow Wahine program, but also enhancing the experience for fans with seats similar to those across the street at Les Murakami Stadium. Not to mention better addressing Title IX mandates.

When the raise comes Coolen's way it will be more than just a personal salary adjustment; it will also mark a change for the program he has built in the quarry.

———

Reach Ferd Lewis at flewis@staradvertiser.com.






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