Wednesday, November 25, 2015         

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Jay says he's up for challenge

By Jason Kaneshiro


Ben Jay's opportunity to lead arose from a tumultuous period in the history of the University of Hawaii athletic department.

Those who will soon work under his leadership hope his hiring will help steady a department shaken over the course of a rocky 2012.

"The biggest thing is Ben will bring us that stability that every coach is looking for, which we haven't had for the (past) few months," UH basketball coach Gib Arnold said. "This kind of brings closure to a lot of things and it's also obviously a new beginning."

Arnold was among the coaches in attendance at a press conference formally introducing Jay as UH's 19th athletic director Thursday afternoon at the Stan Sheriff Center.

Jay did most of the talking, but plans to devote some of his initial days in the post listening when he finally gets a chance to sit down with the coaches on staff as he develops a long-range focus for the department.

"I want to see what their plans have been … where do they see themselves," Jay said. "I have to get an understanding of what they've been doing and how we can support them.

"There are certain bureaucratic things they shouldn't have to be worried about. I want them to be coaching, I want them to be recruiting, I want them to be with our student-athletes, spending their time with them. That's their job."

Jay plans to delve into his new job on Jan. 14, about a week before his 56th birthday, as he makes the transition from a senior associate athletics director at Ohio State to overseeing's UH's 21-sport department.

Part of the job starts today when he attends a breakfast with local business leaders. He'll make his first public appearance as athletic director during the Hawaiian Airlines Diamond Head Classic on Saturday before returning to Ohio with his family — wife Ling and children Taylor, Olivia and Bryan — on Sunday.

The breakfast will be one of his first opportunities to exercise the trait he cited as a strength as he begins to build support for UH athletics.

"My greatest strength is communication, is building relationships," Jay said. "I've been able to do that throughout my career. It's served us well at Ohio State and it will serve me well here."

Jay called taking command of a college athletic department a "dream come true for me." The vacancy he filled came out of a sometimes nightmarish year for UH in which a botched fundraising concert ultimately led to previous athletic director Jim Donovan being reassigned before subsequently accepting the same post at Cal State Fullerton last week.

UH vice president Rockne Freitas served as acting athletic director since July, and the hiring of a full-time AD offers hope of stability for the department.

"Rockne, all kudos to him," UH-Manoa chancellor Tom Apple said. "He did an absolutely fantastic job in the interim, taking a department that was really under siege and really helping to stabilize. But now we're ready to move forward."

Jay's appointment marks one of Apple's first major hires as chancellor. Apple cited Jay's experience working at Ohio State as Senior Associate Athletics Director for Finance and Operations, and the realm of responsibilities that encompassed, as a key in offering him the position, which comes with an annual salary of $293,000.

Jay's business acumen will be tested in taking over an athletic department with a budget about $100 million less than the $132.4 million he had to work with at Ohio State. One that has built an accumulated net deficit of $11.3 million with another $2.3 million projected for the current fiscal year.

Jay said getting the department back to the black will be a goal in his tenure.

"There is institutional support, there is student support, student fees, and we're responsible for that. We're going to make sure we're spending our money right," Jay said.

"I've seen how many years this department has run a deficit and has been amply supported by the administration in terms of financial support. But we have to own up to ourselves and be able to at least break even," he added later in the press conference.

Apple echoed Jay's desire to balance the budget, "even though we have special challenges here, we have expenses a lot of other programs don't have."

"The travel from here is tremendous, the expenses never go down," Jay said. "So how do you make sure you are raising enough revenues to match that? It will be this test of brainstorming as to what other revenue streams can we look at, that we can implement without impacting a lot of people."

Jay said he's also reviewed the university's internal audit of the athletic department, which brought into question some of its management practices.

"We'll have to be a little more clear," Jay said of the department's policies. "I saw what the auditors tested, which any good auditor does and they'll pick apart what your weaknesses are and I just want to address those and strengthen those."

Jay said he was able to take a quick tour of the lower campus during the interview process but taking a closer look at the facilities will be one of his first priorities in January.

Just as Jay is anticipating the next step in his career, those he'll be working with also welcomed the sense of forward momentum in re-establishing leadership of the department.

"The most important thing I think initially is to give him a frame of reference in terms of where we're at and find out from him where he wants to go and start to chart a course," UH associate AD John McNamara said. "We can start talking five to 10 years down the road and start talking about a strategic plan that's more long term."

To that end, Jay said he'll have a two-word charge to those working under his leadership when he takes the reins full time.

"My challenge to the staff is ‘think big' " Jay said. "I'm open to ideas. … You have to listen to your people because some of them have great ideas and, given the opportunity, we're hoping to flesh some of those out."

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