University of Hawaii hopes to form bond with Japan

by Kaz Nagatsuka

Staff Writer

Hosting a regular-season college football game abroad would certainly have an impact, but the University of Hawaii is seeking more than just that.

UH also wants to build a strong, long-term relationship with Japanese sports.

Hawaii, which is looking to play a regular-season opening game in Osaka with its football team as early as 2014, hopes such a game would boost the interaction between the school, the state of Hawaii and Japan.

Jim Donovan, the school’s athletic director, says UH is looking at the big picture for the sport rather than just making big bucks.

The school has deepened its relationships with football organizations in the Kansai region, where the sport is most popular in Japan, over the last few years.

Donovan said he and his partners visited the Kansai American Football Association to talk about the Osaka game and their future relationship during a recent trip to Japan in August, for the university’s men’s basketball team’s Asian tour.

“I told them we could share some of the proceeds (from the Osaka game) with you to help promote football in your region,” Donovan said. “We’re very open . . . I mean, we’re not looking to make money. We’re looking to break even or not lose very much.

“If it made money, we would’ve been looking at sharing it with the sports programs in this area. That’s what I like.”

In 2009, Donovan and Greg McMackin, head coach of the UH football team, flew to Japan to start establishing bonds with the country and its football. At that time, McMackin was invited to a Kansai American Football Association meeting and gave a speech in front of Japanese coaches.

McMackin and UH also held a coaching clinic for local high school coaches in Hawaii open to Japanese coaches.

And this past January, two coaches from the schools that played in the Koshien Bowl Japanese collegiate national championships at the end of 2010 were invited to the Pro Bowl, which was played at Aloha Stadium, home of the UH football team, to get a taste of NFL experience.

Hawaii has also sought to recruit players from Japan, as Donovan and McMackin told The Japan Times in Tokyo in 2009. But since English language ability is almost unconditionally a must-have both academically and on the field, it has not happened yet.

The university is also looking for Japanese talent in other sports where language might not be as big an issue as in football.

But Donovan said both he and McMackin, a former defensive coordinator for the NFL’s Seattle Seahawks, think there are Japanese players that have the ability to play for Hawaii.

“Coach Mac still says that he has two spots on the team for walk-on Japanese players playing American football,” Donovan said. “And we mentioned that to the Kansai American Football Association.

“No question, as I said a few years ago, it’s difficult (for a Japanese) because of the TOEFL (Test Of English as a Foreign Language) and having to understand English to be successful in school. But we would very much love to see that happen.”