POSTED: 1:30 a.m. HST, Dec 23, 2010
A national ESPN audience will see the Hawaii and Tulsa football teams in the Sheraton Hawaii Bowl tomorrow as a matchup portending a high-scoring shootout.
From his seat in the loge level of Aloha Stadium, Karl Benson will likely view it as an example of "What if ... ?" in a postseason filled with a string of such pointed reminders.
Benson is the commissioner of the Western Athletic Conference, which, these days, means he is focused on trying to assure a future for a conference badly staggered by realignment blows.
This month's announced departure of UH, the WAC's senior member, for the Mountain West Conference in 2012 is the latest punch.
If you are Benson, that it was UH's logical course of action given the changes the WAC had undergone hardly salves the disappointment when you recall that, once upon a not-so-distant time, UH and Tulsa were conference mates in the WAC, playing here as recently as 2004.
So, too, were Brigham Young and Texas-El Paso, who just met in the New Mexico Bowl. And Utah and Boise State, who played in last night's Las Vegas Bowl, could have been.
All together, 10 schools who were members of the 16-team WAC in 1998 and 12 institutions who have been members in the past 12 years are in bowls this season.
Had even a good portion of them taken the big picture to heart, genuinely worked together and not been caught up in the internecine squabbles that ultimately divided them, you wonder where the WAC would be now. Picture, for example, a WAC of UH, Texas Christian, Utah, Boise State, Tulsa...
Be assured that Benson does. Probably every time he turns on the TV this month.
The Bowl Championship Series came into being the year the 16-team WAC split up the blankets. Had the WAC managed to hang together, it could have been the BCS' biggest nightmare, banging on the door of the monopoly with a ferocity that, bless even Sen. Orrin Hatch's indignation, we haven't heard yet.
Back then TCU bemoaned traveling "all the way to Fresno and Hawaii." Now, the Horned Frogs will be trekking to Syracuse, Pittsburgh and West Virginia.
Brigham Young didn't like the revenue distribution or TV package with the WAC. It apparently didn't like the MWC's, either. It mourned the loss of some traditional rivalries. Now it will take a stab at independence in football and play all its other sports in the West Coast Conference.
Benson had proposed a plan that would have, essentially, made the 16-team WAC two conferences in one, preserving regional rivalries, scaling back travel and combining strengths. But the presidents, who call the shots, had shorter attention spans and other ideas.
Less than five months ago Benson had the WAC on the verge of regaining BYU and, who knows, maybe even getting San Diego State, Nevada-Las Vegas and Texas-El Paso back, not to mention possibly retaining Boise State. The WAC was maybe 48 to 72 hours from a major turnaround and a promising future when the conference members pledged solidarity.
"The Project" is what Nevada president Milton Glick had excitedly dubbed it — just before helping to betray it by jumping ship.
UH has made decisions it needed to make in the wake of the changing landscape.
You get the feeling that Benson, after a strong 16-year association, respects that. Even if he sometimes has to wonder what might have been.
Reach Ferd Lewis at firstname.lastname@example.org.