FRESNO, Calif. » Was it former University of Hawaii coach Fred vonAppen who once declared with disgust that he "wouldn’t give a (bleep)" if the Warriors never saw this farm-ringed San Joaquin Valley town again?
And wasn’t it once-upon-a-time Fresno State basketball coach Jerry Tarkanian who bemoaned "having to get on an airplane to go so far" he felt like he was playing in another country when he came to Hawaii?
Yet, for all the mutterings and controversies that have surrounded the rivalry between these two schools across several sports, this is one series you hope the Warriors and Bulldogs will hang onto when they split the blankets and divide up the dishes in their impending Western Athletic Conference divorce.
You hope tomorrow’s meeting at Bulldog Stadium isn’t the final or even penultimate collision between the two best-of-enemies.
Boise State is gone to the Mountain West Conference after this season, likely never to be seen on the Warriors’ regular-season schedules, the Broncos say. That’s too bad, but it is a change UH can live with. Nevada, too, will depart and, whether it’s after this season or following 2012, UH can endure.
But if there is a cessation of competition between UH and the Fresno State, which follows Boise State and Nevada out the WAC door, that would, indeed, be a loss. For this is a series with a knock-down, drag-out history and an attitude — and UH has precious few of those left.
The Bulldogs have been UH’s most frequent football opponent, and tomorrow’s meeting will be the 43rd in a series that stands at 21-20-1 for Hawaii. This is a series that goes back to 1938 and had some frequency even before they joined the WAC.
It has definitely not been a series lacking in drama, finger pointing, down-to-the-wire finishes or familiarity. Who can forget the great screwdriver mystery, something radio station ESPN 1430 in Fresno still pays tribute to with its "golden screwdriver" contest? Or the time a tie at Bulldog Stadium was so disappointing for UH that sportscasters complained on air, "all this way for a (bleeping) tie"?
They are all items missing with the WAC remnants such as New Mexico State, Utah State and Idaho, not to mention prospective newcomers Texas State, UT-San Antonio or whoever. All elements that extend beyond football to softball, basketball and elsewhere.
UH athletic director Jim Donovan said he would like to see the series continue in football as well as many other sports. His opposite number, Thomas Boeh at Fresno State, did not return e-mails yesterday seeking his opinion.
The Dogfather, Fresno State football coach Pat Hill, says "this has been a great, hard-fought series" and favors continuing it but concedes, "I don’t make the schedules."
And therein lies what could be one of the biggest hangups. When the Bulldogs begin play in the Mountain West, whenever that might be, they will be playing a nine-game conference schedule. Most years that will leave just three openings for nonconference games, which they have filled a few of for the near future. For a couple of years, the Bulldogs might even have to dump one.
Of course, by playing at Aloha Stadium, the Bulldogs would also qualify for a 13th game under the NCAA-permitted Hawaii exemption. But some non-WAC visiting schools have become reluctant to give up rare open dates in the schedule to play a 13th game, especially if the game with Hawaii falls amid their conference season.
For UH, even if it must travel on some years, Fresno is practically a neighbor-island hop compared to where it could find itself heading in the new-look WAC or as an independent.
Wherever the future takes UH, you hope Fresno State will remain a spirited part of it.
Reach Ferd Lewis at email@example.com.