Relationships Are Key In Athletics

Larry Price
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Wednesday - January 16, 2008
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It’s a good case study for those interested in the analysis of negotiations gone bad.

Former Athletic Director Herman Frazier didn’t get fired because he didn’t negotiate a favorable contract with former football coach June Jones, who left for more money, better facilities or any other excuses that have been stated. There is, naturally, partial truth in all of the reasons given; however, if you sum them all up, the lesson is clear. The athletic director, in this case, was fired because he was unable to justify his decisions convincingly to himself and to his constituents, and ultimately did not conduct several negotiations so that few people could be satisfied with the consequences of his actions.

This wasn’t supposed to happen. UH has invested a lot of time and money earning sports fans’ trust, support and goodwill. They did all the relationship and customer-oriented selling. Everyone on the staff was persuasive and good-humored. Unfortunately, as the university got closer to closing a big deal, something happened, and with a real lousy deal.

It shouldn’t come as a shock to many. After all, this kind of dilemma is nothing new at UH. In a large institution of higher learning, deals fall through every day, and the public never hears very much about the who, what, when, where and why. The real concern should be that the athletic business depends on the success of long-term relationships with student athletes and their families. There is a particular need to avoid win-lose situations, because a loss like the one we have just witnessed can affect future deals as well.

In point of fact, an athletic director should be a shrewd negotiator who can lure the most seasoned decision-makers into deals based not on emotion but rather on solid athletic business sense. We were no match for the negotiation we all witnessed as it unfolded in lead stories in our media.

None of the coverage was in-depth or insightful of what was going on. It should have been obvious after the “Legislative” investigative hearings last year, the losing side did not have a clue, and no one volunteered to throw the UH administration a lifesaver. We could not join the battle for our former coach for a simple reason: We were not the only source of whatever the coach wanted. Research shows that accommodation and compromise would not have been the answers either. This kind of easy accommodation encourages the customer to expect something for nothing in future negotiations. Compromise is no better because splitting the difference - meeting the coach halfway - might have saved the day on the surface, but would fail to meet the needs of either party fully and is not the proverbial winwin solution.

For athletic directors, the best response is a highly organized agent who is aggressive with access to the national press, legislators, high-rolling supporters is to consider assertive pacifism. That means refuse to fight publicly, but refuse to let the coaches take advantage of your institution. The situation at UH demands a creative partnership where all of the coaches in the athletic department can work together on an inventive solution of long-standing issues like recruiting money, better facilities, non-revenue producing sports and an understanding of athletic economics at the regent level of the institution.

Our next athletic director would be better served with fewer national honors and a higher education. After all, if you don’t study what you do for a living, eventually you will end up with your favorite institution buying out your contract for not making convincing decisions that your constituents can appreciate.

One thing is for sure: The University of Hawaii will not be successful with a Division 1 stadium, a Division 1 schedule, a Division 1 coaching staff and Division 1/2 facilities.

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