Honolulu Star-Advertiser

Cover Story – Sports

By Ferd Lewis

May 3, 2020

In trying to sort out the sports issues brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, University of Hawaii athletic director David Matlin spends many of his days going from one national or regional conference call to another with fellow athletic officials.

While this can, no doubt, be mind-numbing, it can also be viewed as an opportunity to use those connections to better address one of UH’s more momentous coming events, namely the grand opening of what will be its home in the New Aloha Stadium Entertainment District.

The state has projected the facility’s debut to coincide with the Rainbow Warriors scheduled Sept. 2, 2023 home football opener.

When you appropriate up to $350 million of state money (plus however many more millions the eventual developer kicks in), you really ought to have something that demands an on-time finish and an event that is truly a grand opening.

Unfortunately, Albany as an opponent doesn’t have quite that ring to it.

Nothing against Albany — which variously goes by The State University of New York at Albany, University at Albany, SUNY Albany or UAlbany — but who knew that any of them even had a football team? Or, the nickname is the Great Danes?

To be fair, UH didn’t know that the projected date for the opening of its new home would be Sept. 2, 2023 when it initially signed Albany in 2018.

The contract for the game was announced in April of 2018, a year before the Legislature appropriated the money for the state’s share of the project and 15 months prior to Gov. David Ige signing Act 268 that got the ball rolling.

Until then, it was anybody’s guess when — or if — the new stadium would get funded or just collapse in a heap of rust.

But, now we do know.

The Great Danes, a football-only member of the Colonial Athletic Association, were just some Football Championship Subdivision team to fill out the schedule with and provide a break of sorts between the Aug. 26, 2023 season opener at Vanderbilt in Nashville, Tenn., and the Sept. 16 game against Oregon in Eugene.

Albany coach, Greg Gattuso, who played in the 1983 Aloha Bowl for Penn State, wanted to bring his team here and UH has made a practice of playing one FCS opponent per season. The Great Danes jumped at UH’s standard FCS offer of $150,000 cash airfare for a party of 120, 60 hotel rooms for three nights and bus transportation.

But now that the process of determining a developer for NASED is underway and a target has been set for completion, you’d like to see if UH can find a more appealing opponent. Somebody that is a brand name and whose presence would help to underline the aspirations for the team and the place it calls home.

With three years to work on it, the hope would be that UH could make use of its contacts, adroitly juggle its schedule and come up with a suitable opponent.

UH’s track record on big openings has sometimes been lacking. Recall, for example, the 43-9 loss to Texas A&I — not A&M — that opened the current Aloha Stadium in 1975.

Baseball coach Les Murakami had the right idea about opening the stadium that would eventually be named for him when he booked USC for the facility’s 1984 debut.

Workers were still bolting down the final seats that night when the box office set up for business. The pressure of achieving an on-time opening certainly didn’t hurt.