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Sports & Fitness // Hot Air
Steve Murray

UH Is Bad, Broke And Losing Hope

The University of Hawaii football team is a program in crisis. Wallowing in the morass of ineffectiveness that makes mediocrity a worthy goal, the team is losing fans and financing.

The Rainbow Warriors are bad, boring and have provided little hope for change. As a result, attendance is in a free fall and the department’s ability to support itself is in jeopardy.

Attendance has been in a near yearly decline since the undefeated season in 2007 when an average 43,514 fans packed Aloha Stadium for each home game. A year ago, attendance bottomed out at an inflated 30,031 per game. Not surprisingly, it was the lowest attendance mark since the winless 1998 season – a campaign that, in the minds of many, is getting frighteningly close to being relived.

A Sept. 24 Honolulu Star-Advertiser readers’ poll found that 58 percent of respondents have little or no confidence in coach Norm Chow’s ability to make things better. The 3,133 votes hardly make for a scientific sample of fan support and apathy, but it’s a worrying statistic for a department with a history of financial problems. After an 0-3 start (before hosting conference-leading and No. 25 ranked Fresno State this past weekend), the team is on the precipice of losing its connection to its fans.

Fan spending is directly correlated to team success.

But when fans lose the very thing that makes them fans – their emotional connection to the team – they may be lost forever.

Ticket buyers are losing hope for very good reason.

Chow was brought in as an offensive specialist. Of his days at USC, it was said he didn’t draw up plays, but touchdowns. That no longer seems to be the case. In his 15 games at UH (minus the Fresno game), Hawaii has been outscored 277-522. It’s unacceptable and headed in the wrong direction. In 2012, UH scored an average of 21.2 points per game (103rd among FBS schools). Through three games this year, that total has plummeted to just 12 points and one offensive touchdown per game.

A year ago, UH couldn’t throw (100), run (123), score (104) or keep others from scoring (107). The team wasn’t just losing, it was boring to watch.

Now it’s gotten worse.

This year – again minus Fresno – UH is below the century mark in yards per game (117), sacks allowed (121), passes intercepted (T120), rushing yards (114), scoring (119), passing efficiency (119) and turnover ratio (121). Passing yards this season have risen to 85th with an average of 207 yards per game.

The defense is the relative star of this team, but is hampered by an inability to prevent big plays and one of the most sharing offenses in the country. After three games, the defense is No. 72 in total defense, 90th in points allowed and dead last in red zone defense.

Let’s not mince words: The 2013 Rainbow Warriors are one of the worst teams in the country – USA Today ranks it at 111 out of 125 with a Sagarin rating of 132. As depressing as that is for the players, who to their credit have never lacked for effort, their lack of team success has put an already economically challenged program into greater peril.

Last week, athletics director Ben Jay laid out a plan to increase donations by $1.1 million for the current fiscal year and $44.4 million over the next five years. He also wants to increase the annual budget from $32 million to $42 million. According to the Star-Advertiser, the department has averaged $6.2 million in annual donations over the past five years.

It’s an ambitious goal that depends on winning football games. Without victories and the income they generate, Jay will be hard-pressed to increase merchandise sales or sway corporate donors to kick up contributions to reach an ever-shrinking customer base. He also can’t count on continued financial support from upper campus as the university gets set to issue bonds and use tuition to attack the nearly $500 million maintenance backlog.

The remaining 42 percent who voted for either some level or a strong level of confidence in the current staff may argue that Chow is in the midst of a rebuilding program and that time is needed. That’s not incorrect.

Former head coach Greg McMackin left a roster void of proper FBS talent, and Chow has been hard-pressed to make up for that shortcoming, but it would be a mistake to say that hasn’t happened. There are some studs on this team.

As I mentioned some weeks ago, the defensive front seven look nasty at times, tying Fresno for the conference lead in tackles for a loss with 26. I still feel Taylor Graham is capable of leading this team, and against Nevada running back Diocemy Saint Juste showed the skills to push Joey Iosefa down the depth chart.

Chow will get a third year if for no other reason than a buyout would be too costly. Fred VonAppen got three years and Chow deserves the same opportunity. But he needs to start winning now.

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