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Regent Karr has made big contributions to UH sports

By Ferd Lewis

LAST UPDATED: 10:27 p.m. HST, Aug 5, 2011

Fifteen months ago when Howard Karr rose at a University of Hawaii Board of Regents meeting to declare that the athletic department should operate “more like a business” there was an immediate hush across the room.

It had been a while since anybody at the regents’ level had confronted the growing, multi-million dollar deficit in such pointed terms or with as much urgency, and people took notice of the new chair.

Today, as Karr raps the gavel on his last meeting as a regent, UH athletics will lose one of its most active and influential advocates.

As regents chair, Karr has had a hand in many areas of UH, but perhaps not since the late Wally Fujiyama, who wielded considerable power in the late 1970s and early 1980s, has there been one who has been as much a factor in athletics.

But unlike the more visible, often-outspoken Fujiyama, Karr was a behind-the-scenes force of the kind largely unknown to the sporting public he regular sits among as a UH baseball season-ticket holder.

Karr’s contributions, however, have been unmistakable. That UH will be joining the Mountain West Conference in 2012 is, in part, due to the fire he lit under the upper-campus administration when the conference landscape began to change last summer. He drove home to Bachman Hall the urgency of the situation and the peril that surely awaited UH if it wasn’t more proactive in planning for the future.

You didn’t see Karr at the November press conference joyfully announcing UH’s nearly complete negotiations with the MWC, but he was among those who met with MWC officials and formed a personal relationship with commissioner Craig Thompson, with whom he has traded jabs about their favorite baseball teams.

Karr, a retired First Hawaiian Bank executive and former BancWest Corp. CFO, has brought an overdue, no-nonsense bottom line eye to athletic finances. So much so that you suspect if he had been in place eight years ago, UH would not be wrestling with more than $9 million in accumulated net debt now.

Indeed, Karr has been one of the keenest observers of the department’s balance sheet these past two years, going so far in one committee session as to question whether UH ought to save money by granting only in-state scholarships for cheerleaders.

But if he has sometimes been accused of micro managing, Karr also has been willing to roll up his sleeves and pitch in, witness the considerable assist in helping to pass the student athletic fee, a $1.8 million boost to the athletic budget, last year.

Karr pushed the upper campus to end the logjam on basketball coach Gib Arnold’s contract. He also is said to be behind the so-called “McMackin Rule” that, in the wake of the $1.1 million contract given football coach Greg McMackin in 2008, requires approval of the board chair and vice chair for any athletic contract beyond three years or that exceeds the salary scale by more than 25 percent.

Which might be why, heading into the penultimate year of the contract, McMackin’s representatives have yet to press hard for an extension of similar terms while Karr has remained on the board.

Three years after taking a seat on the board, Karr leaves UH with a lot more than just a chair to fill.

Reach Ferd Lewis at

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