If you follow sports closer than other goings-on at the University of Hawaii (and you probably do), you can consider M.R.C. Greenwood undefeated in the big games. She is 1-0.
Everything that moves in the UH system is within Greenwood’s domain. But there’s been only one high-profile sports issue the president has gotten much involved with directly in her nearly two years at the post.
And she won, big-time.
Getting out of the Western Athletic Conference and into the Mountain West and Big West — which Greenwood proudly announced last December — is the third-best thing to happen to UH sports, ever.
No. 1 is going 12-0 in football in 2007 and UH reaping the rewards of a BC$ bowl game.
Second-best is getting into the WAC back in the late ’70s. That was a great accomplishment for previously independent Hawaii. But no one promised a lifetime party … the announcement Thursday that the WAC is adding Texas-Arlington only emphasizes further that UH had to find a lifeboat, that Hawaii had no reason to remain in a league continuing to add schools east of the Rockies (and a non-football-playing one, at that).
WE DISCUSS the Great Escape today because Greenwood met with the Star-Advertiser earlier this week at an editorial board meeting. The president graciously addressed a wide range of topics, including UH sports.
I have to believe that early in the meeting when Greenwood said football doesn’t make money, it was a verbal slip; it is well-documented that the revenue produced by football helps keep non-revenue sports going.
Greenwood normally maintains a safe distance from the nuts and bolts of things Warrior, Rainbow and Wahine, and admits to a less-than-extensive sports background. Intercollegiate athletics at Manoa and its $30-million-a-year budget is a small piece of UH’s entire $1.4 billion systemwide operation.
Greenwood does keep an eye on lower campus, engaged at what I think is a proper level, showing up at games and other athletics-related events … and stepping in when needed, as she did on the conference realignment issue. She said the department is doing “a decent job” at chipping away at its deficit.
The president realizes that — whether it is right or wrong — sports is the component of college in which the general public has the most interest, sometimes more than things happening in their own fields of endeavor.
To illustrate: I asked a bunch of local journalists if they knew of Robert Lopez, a Manoa journalism graduate who works at the L.A. Times and won a Pulitzer Prize for investigative reporting this year. None, even the UH grads, had heard of him. But all were well aware of the exploits of a guy named Colt Brennan who came in third in the Heisman Trophy race a few years ago.
That may not surprise you, and we all know there is no UH professor, no matter how preeminent in his or her field, who can get 30,000 people to Aloha Stadium and inspire a state full of pay-per-view parties on a Saturday night. And that’s why UH football coach Greg McMackin is the highest-paid government employee in Hawaii.
Still, since Greenwood described an environment full of money woes and the “crumbling infrastructure” of the Manoa campus, how much is too much for coaches seemed a fair question.
In her response, she used the word “idiomatic.” I believe that is universitypresidentese for “It is what it is.” But I couldn’t help also thinking that a pure academician would really like to take the “m” and the “a” out of idiomatic.
“Well, we had a winning season last year,” is the on-the-record response from Greenwood when asked specifically about McMackin’s big contract.
Dick Tomey, Bob Wagner and June Jones had lots of winning seasons, but never got close to $1.1 million a year (even if you adjust for inflation).
Greenwood said the cost of keeping the talent happy on upper campus has gone up, too — and that folks might be surprised if they knew how much effort and expense went into recruiting professors.
Maybe the two sides of Dole Street have more in common than we thought.