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New Contract May Indicate Good News

University of Hawaii athletics director Ben Jay is in the process of negotiating a contract extension for men’s basketball coach Gib Arnold.

Arnold is signed through June 30 and has an annual salary of $344,000 plus bonuses. An automatic one-year contract rollover kicked in following his 20-win season in 2013-14. Any new agreement would supersede the rollover and become effective July 1 of this year.

Such a move, while the program is being investigated by the NCAA for possible rules violations, suggests either Jay is oblivious to the risks or is confident enough with his information that the university has little fear of an unfavorable ruling.

Anyone with a rudimentary understanding of collegiate athletics is well aware of the complex and downright confusing nature of NCAA investigations. Jay, who was on staff at Ohio State when some of its football players were found to have traded memorabilia for tattoos and cash, has been close enough long enough to do a simple risk assessment of the situation.

If UH were to extend Arnold, only to later be informed of a major rules violation that could merit a firing for cause, the financial hit to the cash-strapped department could be huge. With that in mind, it seems most likely that whatever punishment might come down is not going to warrant a coaching change, or that a new deal will include language making it less costly for the university to remove its head coach.

A late call to Jay’s office last week was not returned prior to publication deadline.

From an enforcement standpoint, a contract extension is good news for UH. It indicates the NCAA has uncovered no major violations and that the school can proceed wiser than it was before. The association could still announce minor violations, but those would have little effect on Arnold’s employment.

The NCAA has spoken, or will speak to, at least six current and former players. Those conversations are more likely to be about player-centered issues such as practice times, recruiting and academics rather than Brandyn Akana’s paperwork problems.

Last week Star-Advertiser columnist Dave Reardon quoted former point guard Keith Shamburger saying the reason he decided to transfer “might be because of the coaches.”

So all is not perfect under the rainbow. No biggie. If we accept contract negotiations as evidence of a limited NCAA threat, then Jay’s biggest burden may be managing player-coach situations while pressing upon Arnold the immediate need for a performance upgrade. In fact, any discussion of an extension should include exact performance marks upon which Arnold can be fairly graded.

Arnold has proven himself to be a talented recruiter, but has yet to show the ability to create and direct an effective offense. Defense under Arnold has been impressive.

Too often last season, UH passed the ball hoping something positive would happen. If they couldn’t dump the ball to Isaac Fotu or Christian Standhardinger in the post, the ball circulated the three-point line until an open shooting lane appeared. Screens were rare, pick-and-roll plays nonexistent and no discernible diagramed play followed time outs. The end of close games became a nightmare as Shamburger would dribble the clock down to single digits with seemingly no idea how to begin the offense. Early season success was difficult to replicate in conference as UH was often unable to counter adjustments made by familiar foes.

Under Arnold, UH is .500 in the final two months of the season and has won just one conference tournament game in four years. With the talent he brings in, UH should be an annual contender in the middling Big West Conference. So far that hasn’t happened. Jay needs to make it clear that with an increased salary and continued support, more results are needed. Contract negotiations are a great time to send just such a message.

Twitter: @Steve Murray84