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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, May 30, 2010

In time, softball could be ticket out

 •  UH plays for Series berth

By Ferd Lewis

The biggest success of 2010 for the University of Hawai'i athletic department has unquestionably been the rise of its softball team.

And the darkest cloud hovering over the 19-team program has been a string of annual $2 million deficit budget years.

It is a good bet that it won't be too long before somebody up there gets serious about trying to use the former to take a Jessica Iwata-like whack at the latter.

The first response likely being: Hey, let's charge admission for softball games next season.

UH ought to be careful how it proceeds with that one.

The school has something good going with a softball program that has advanced to two NCAA super regionals in four years, one of just two non-Bowl Championship Series schools to do so. Only one other program on the Mānoa campus, women's volleyball, has gone as far in that time.

With the success of this year to sell to potential recruits and continued support, you'd like to think the Rainbow Wahine can further expand the horizons of the program.

At this point in its development that should be the approach to Rainbow Wahine softball: consistency and sustained growth.

Coach Bob Coolen will tell you a factor in the Rainbow Wahine going 24-8 at home this season and 28-7 in 2007 was the crowds at Rainbow Wahine Softball Stadium. His teams have thrived in the atmosphere.

But he also acknowledges, "We would not get (1,200) fans, as we did against Fresno, if we were charging (for tickets)." Small wonder Coolen says, "I am not in favor, whatsoever, of charging (for admission)."

And therein is the issue: Would whatever UH takes in from selling tickets make enough of a financial dent to offset what it gives up in a homefield advantage?

UH picked up a growing following as it roared through this and the '07 seasons and packed fans in for the marquee Fresno games but still averaged 596 a game. At those numbers the tickets would have to be priced at more than a couple of bucks to bring any real return.

"We draw a lot of our fans from what I call the 'curiosity factor' in seeing what we're all about," Coolen said. "Once they see what we are about, we see them come back when we don't have a rival sport like baseball, men's volleyball or basketball playing at the same time."

For UH to go head-to-head with those sports, especially with a ticket charge, wouldn't make much sense at this point in the program's development.

In time, perhaps. But, for now, UH would be wise to let softball build its trophy case and following.