Honolulu Star-Advertiser

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Ferd's Words

Regents stacked the deck against UH students

For the better part of Thursday’s Board of Regents meeting, University of Hawaii students heard how their attendance at sports events would give the school a stronger "home field advantage."

By the end of the 2 1/2 -hour session, where the regents voted 11-3 to assess a controversial mandatory $50-a-semester athletic fee, student government representatives should have fully appreciated what it can be like to compete on somebody else’s turf.

Because even though it was on the Manoa campus, the meeting was distinctly a road game for the students, who had a lot arrayed against them leading up to the milestone vote.

You think it was a coincidence that resolutions honoring the school’s softball and baseball teams in addition to NCAA track champion Amber Kaufman were stacked with the fee issue at the same meeting? Or that so many athletes turned out?

Imagine it was a happenstance Donna Vuchinich, president and CEO of the UH Foundation, was pointedly asked if athletic success "correlated" with donations to the school?

Her answer was: "Yes it does. People like to be associated with winners."

Much was made by the students and others of the timing of the meeting, a month before the fall semester begins, leaving few students on campus. And it was, of course, providential for athletics. But more telling was that the meeting was in the Stan Sheriff Center, a place not often hosting regents’ meetings.

Make no mistake, the regents’ vote was hardly a foregone conclusion. There was real potential for it to boomerang on athletics.

With the prospect of nearly $2 million a year for the financially struggling sports program, there was a lot riding on the regents’ response to the mandatory fee proposal, and you don’t have to be Oliver Stone to see the way things seemed to line up.

Interesting, for example, how the only coach to speak was the one who could have the biggest impact, Wahine volleyball’s Dave Shoji. I mean, the man’s won like 90 percent of the times he’s stepped into the building.

As much as academics took shots at other athletic figures, Shoji was the one everybody accorded respect. If Shoji asked for help getting students to his matches, well, regents are going to at least listen.

To be sure, Manoa Chancellor Virginia Hinshaw and athletic director Jim Donovan delivered a strong, comprehensive PowerPoint presentation and fielded questions well. But people of a same mind on the fee proposal helped prepare the ground, too.

In that, thank-you cards might be called for when it comes to regents chairman Howard Karr, member Michael Dahilig and board secretary Keith Amemiya, who, you suspect, did some of the ground work.

At the end, it was telling that even Matthew Williams, the student representative, voted for the fee proposal.

UH President M.R.C. Greenwood, probably the president most detached from athletics at the school in the past 30 years, noted at one point, "since it is a day for athletics …"

Yes, it was definitely a day for athletics, which evidently knows a thing — or nearly $2 million — about the home field advantage.

Reach sports writer Ferd Lewis at flewis@staradvertiser.com.


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