UCLA Basketball Follows Showbiz Script

UCLA Basketball Follows Showbiz Script

Normally, the firing of a basketball coach — even one in Los Angeles — wouldn’t really be a Hollywood story. But UCLA has chosen to dump Ben Howland for a reason that has cost many a showbiz exec his or her job: Lousy boxoffice.

In the full-disclosure department, I write this as a UCLA alumnus, life-long fan and season-ticket holder. Yet the drumbeat surrounding Howland has been fueled not only by a disappointing record but a failure to put asses in seats, after the university raised and spent roughly $140 million to renovate its storied arena, Pauley Pavilion.

Setting aside Howland’s merits as a coach, the reason that’s noteworthy is because by that criteria, the deck was stacked against him from the get-go. Thanks to a new TV deal, a number of Pac-12 games started at 6 p.m. PT, making it difficult for the Bruin faithful to make tipoff. In one game, for example, the ESPN announcers referenced the poor crowd showing, without making any mention of their role in setting the time or the difficulties getting anywhere in L.A. around rush hour.

At the same time, practically every game is televised (although some were blacked out for DirecTV subscribers, since the satcaster didn’t pick up the Pac-12 Network), reducing the incentive to attend in person. Moreover, ticket prices were jacked up for the new arena, while unemployment in California continues to run ahead of the national average. Add those factors to the “Why not just watch at home” calculus.

Finally, Los Angeles offers far more distractions and alternatives for the entertainment buck than a number of the smaller markets that are home to traditional basketball powers. That doesn’t mean it’s impossible to excite local fans if the team’s winning, but it does add to the sense UCLA or USC — unlike, say, Illinois or Kentucky — aren’t the only game in town, particularly with the Clippers suddenly looking like a playoff contender.

Like movie executives, nobody needs to shed any tears for Howland or host any bake sales on his behalf. He’ll leave with a fat buyout package, and these jobs — while high-profile and subject to intense scrutiny — tend to be a revolving door, either into other coaching positions or the broadcast booth.

Still, I can’t help but think about the movie “Network,” and the notion of Howard Beale getting killed over lousy ratings.

Like all of major sports now, UCLA danced to TV’s tune, then turned around and complained when the boxoffice results suffered because of those mercenary priorities — “mercenary” also being a fair description of the “one and done” players who fleetingly pass through programs en route to the NBA, seriously diluting the quality of the college game.

The next coach might find a way to gracefully navigate that daunting high-wire act, but all I can say is, “Good luck with that.”

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  1. JD says:

    Article didn’t really get to the root of the causes, only symptoms. UCLA wants a Pete Carroll type, charismatic leader. That, Howland is not. A “player coach” could have bought more time. Players leaving focused on lack of control. Ticket mess is SOLELY related to forcing obscene personal seat licenses, which never work in LA. There was always empty seats in the Loge mid-court, not a coach issue. Scheduling quality games in December instead of padding the schedule will fill seats. Disappointing article, missed the boat. Stick to scripted TV.

  2. jmjesq says:

    Reblogged this on and commented:
    Wow, so Shabazz and now fired.

  3. peterego says:

    *looking at firing and hiring a new FOOTBALL coach.

  4. peterego says:

    This article has it wrong, They act like UCLA fired Howland because of THIS season. Uh…no. They actually would have fired him a few years ago but didn’t because of money. They were restarted the football team, looking at firing and hiring a new coach, they were building Pauley, and Howland needed to go….but he was given a short leash because they didn’t want to spend so much money at one time. They needed to get the TV deals etc to start to recoup in order to pay for Howland’s contract as well as a NEW coach’s contract. UCLA cant go cheap, but Howland got a chance to turn it around, and he didn’t. You guys should really do more research before you report on things you don’t know about.

  5. An excellent replacement for BH is Lorenzo Romar if he can be pried out of his present job.

  6. mrtmedia says:

    Brian, OMG, you think TV contract pressure and attendance has to do with Howland’s firing? How about lack of respect from players, lack of team discipline, an uncharacteristic change in coaching style, not relating to players and losing too many quality athletes this past several seasons? Oh I almost forgot inability to coach half court basketball. Something changed in Howland after he went to the finals the last time. HE JUST LOST IT. Good riddens, hoping Mike DiAntini is on the same bus out of town.

  7. john8831 says:

    Why not hire Bill Walton? After all he knows it all. That is one gravy trainer want to be. As well, why night higher Tragic Johnson. After all, he knows it all too. Just look at all the money he is wasting on the Dodgers and pokes his nose into the Lakers every so often.

  8. He is a great person and coach! We went to the final four in Atlanta when he took the team that far.
    Bill Walton has been on this campaign for the entire season!! He should be the one fired. I am a graduate of NC state and love to watch the Bruins! Ben will get a great job and more money.
    This was a hugh mistake on UCLA part !

  9. Exactly, it’s not a coach they want, but a showman. That Howland is not, neither was Wooden. That is one of the reasons they hired him in the first place. I guess Woodenesq doesn’t get it nay more

  10. Bruin for life says:

    Just for the record, I support and thank Coach Ben Howland for his 10 years of coaching and service at UCLA. He is a great man and a good coach. He knows the game of basketball better than 99% of the people and will be missed by many at Westwood.
    Our family wishes him and his family the best in the future and I am confident he will land a coaching job very quickly. Most east coast schools with an open coaching position will be looking at him and someone will hire him. Thanks again Coach and God bless.

    • sb526 says:

      Well, sure, UCLA needs to pay off the stadium remodel. Certainly a factor. But there’s also a dismal 5 year span without any meaningful tourney runs, a bad outlook for the roster in the foreseeable future with no center or point guard and Howland’s deteriorating reputation among local high school talent. I’ve been a BH supporter in the past, but like in show biz, a change seems to be necessary for all parties.

  11. Bruin for life says:

    Thank you very much for a very well written article. You bring up some very valid reasons.

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