Hawaii's Frazier stands by goal to turn athletics image around

Updated: May 22, 2007, 1:34 AM ET
Associated Press

HONOLULU -- State lawmakers questioned University of Hawaii athletics director Herman Frazier for three and a half hours Monday over everything from his fiscal management to the incomplete Warriors' football schedule.

"We've got an image problem at UH athletics that needs special care immediately. If we don't do it, I think we're going to be in big trouble," Rep. K. Mark Takai said.

Frazier testified before members of the Senate and House education committees, which requested an update on the department.

"I guarantee you, we will do the best job we can possibly do for this university day in and day out, because we know it, we believe in it and we know what we're doing," he said in his closing remarks.

Frazier has been under fire for months for not being able to complete the 2007 football schedule and the handling men's basketball coach Riley Wallace's departure after 20 years with the team. The complaints took on a new urgency after Warriors star quarterback Colt Brennan complained to reporters about substandard athletic facilities, in addition to the lack of resources.

"There's a good chance we could be a Top 25 preseason ranked football team and we can't even get soap in our locker room," Brennan told The Associated Press on May 4.

The informational briefing was called by Rep. Jerry Chang, D-Piihonua-Kaumana, who said, "I want to make it clear, we are not here to micromanage."

Takai, D-Newtown-Pearl City, said lawmakers have fielded numerous calls from residents concerned about the state of the athletic department. He called conditions at some UH facilities, such as Cooke Field, "deplorable," and told Frazier that he hasn't communicated well with lawmakers in seeking funding.

Frazier was also grilled on a wide-ranging group of subjects including his fundraising abilities, travel, handling of the budget, communication with the media, parking woes, Hawaii's "image" problem and the lack of a 13th opponent on the 2007 football schedule.

Frazier said the scheduling problems all started when Michigan State pulled out, paying Hawaii a $250,000 cancellation fee. He said if no opponent is selected by the end of the month, the school will only play 12 games.

The Warriors already have two Division I-AA opponents on the schedule, which has drawn criticism from fans.

"Did the football schedule take a life of its own? Absolutely it did. Do I take full responsibility? Absolutely I did," Frazier said. "Now we're behind the eight ball and people are running from us. That's OK, because we'll figure it out."

The former track star and Olympic gold medalist managed to keep his cool as lawmakers picked him apart, even in a sweltering and crowded conference room at the state Capitol that had everyone else hot under the collar.

Frazier touted the successes in the various sports from football to swimming. He also said he has helped turn the financial problem around.

He said the department had a net loss of $2.5 million in 2003 and is now operating in the black.

As for the poor facilities, interim Chancellor Denise Konan testified that the Manoa campus has a repair and maintenance backlog of $114 million. Of that, about $4.5 million is for athletic facilities.

She noted that of the $21 million athletics budget, only $1.5 million is from state funds.

Konan said she has been able to evaluate Hawaii's 19-sport program compared to other schools in the Western Athletic Conference. She noted that Hawaii is the WAC's "flagship program" and the longest-standing member.

"We serve as a model and are proud to do that," she said.

Several head coaches also attended to show their support, including football coach June Jones and newly-hired men's basketball coach Bob Nash.

WAC commissioner Karl Benson flew in just to make a few brief comments about Frazier.

"He's well-respected, well-regarded and well-connected throughout the NCAA," Benson said. "People on the mainland look at the University of Hawaii athletics program as a very efficient and effective organization."

As far as the lack of soap in the Warriors' locker room, associate athletics director Carl Clapp said the facility has been dealing with vandalism but new soap dispensers have been installed.

"They're full of soap and ready to go," he said.

Takai, however, questioned the cost of the soap dispensers -- reported to be $4,000 for 25 -- and how long the problem has gone on.

"It's not funny at all if the athletics department cannot provide something as simple as soap to its players," Takai said. "From my perspective, it's the tip of the iceberg."

Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press