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Sports & Fitness // Hot Air
Steve Murray

Jay Has Big Job Ahead At UH

Leave it to veteran broadcaster Jim Leahey to ask the most pertinent questions.

At Ben Jay’s introductory press conference last week, the second in line of the three-generation broadcasting family queried UH’s new athletics director about his autonomy within the highly complex business and social structure at the university. Jay replied as expected, calling it an evolving partnership among himself, chancellor Tom Apple and others.

The importance of the question was not lost on those in attendance. UH has been a bastion of self-interest and overbearing oversight for decades. This culture most recently led to the attempted cover-up of the failed fundraising concert that cost the financially stricken university an estimated $1 million and Jay’s predecessor his job.

Some of that bureaucracy was brought to bear, though in a roundabout way, by Apple as he explained the process that led to the delayed acknowledgment of Jay’s hiring.

The first official announcement came in the form of a notice on the university’s website four days after the letter of acceptance was signed on Dec. 3.

“I wanted to let the search committee know first because they did all the work. I wanted to let the governor know, I wanted to let the board of regents know … ”

Apple explained both finalists, Jay and Cal-Berkeley deputy director of athletics/COO Solly Fulp, signed letters that day to commit themselves to the position. Apple then interviewed the two before making his final decision Dec. 7 after “sleeping on it” the previous day. He said the Dec. 20 press conference was simply a matter of availability for Jay and his family.

In front of coaches, administrators and a few off-campus power brokers, Jay said his greatest strength was his communication skills that is critical in building relationships. It’s a talent UH desperately needs.

Jay will be tested immediately as he tries to lure back boosters who became disillusioned with the administration’s handling of the failed Stevie Wonder concert. He also will have to meet the expectations of fans and other community members who see a plantation mentality thriving at the university, where those in charge, buffered by high salaries and political protection, remain safe from the filth being deposited upon the doorsteps of downhill residents.

The Ohio State athletic department website lists Jay two steps below athletic director Gene Smith and in charge of overseeing the department’s $109 million operating budget. If there is a time when UH needs a fundraiser and an accountant, in which Jay majored as a undergraduate at Ohio State, it’s now.

The department is already negative $11 million on the balance sheet with an additional $2.3 million deficit projected for the current fiscal year, this reported last week by the Honolulu Star-Advertiser. Perhaps it was because of this budget shortfall that made Jay such an attractive candidate. His resume makes it clear, the new AD is a numbers guy.

Jay has sat on the NCAA Business and Finance Cabinet and the NCAA Finance Subcommittee to Review NCAA Student-Athlete Catastrophic Insurance Program. He also is a national policy advisory board member for the University of Central Florida’s DeVos Sports Business Management Program.

In preparation for his interviews, Jay said he talked with friends about the job, including WAC and Mountain West commissioners Jeff Hurd and Craig Thompson. If that’s the case, and I’m not calling into question his honesty recounting the events that led up to his hire, then he must be fully aware of the massive job ahead. It’s not going to be easy.

Agreeing to lead a broke athletic department in a faraway state lacking facilities and exposure may seem masochistic to some, but he’ll be a rock star and highly employable if he turns this mess around. Minus social or family connections, UH is a place to begin or end your career. It’s not a long term goal. A turnaround in Manoa could lead to similar position in his hometown and alma mater.

In the meantime, he may want to bring a little bit of home with him and teach the UH marching band to spell out Hawaii in cursive script, while at the same time providing twice as many i-dotting opportunities for current and future tuba players.

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