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UH should get serious about leaving the WAC

For Sunday, June 20, 2010

LAST UPDATED: 10:44 a.m. HST, Jun 21, 2010

Lacking home games of a professional sports team, many residents look to the University of Hawaii's participation in major college sports, especially football, to fill a need they find important if not essential in a place to live. That activity now is at risk, as what looks to be the beginning of years-long reshuffling threatens to weaken the Western Athletic Conference. UH needs to aggressively seek ways to retain an athletic program of significance.

The success of Boise State's football team in recent years brought respect to the WAC, and thus UH. Boise State's acceptance into the Mountain West Conference now lowers the league's standing to that of 1998, when the WAC's and previously Skyline Conference's core schools and a few chosen institutions broke away to form the Mountain West. That left UH, Boise State, Fresno State and Nevada with lesser programs in the WAC.

Boise State's move this month strengthened the Mountain West considerably but momentarily. The University of Utah's acceptance into the Pac-10 brought the Mountain West back to its previous standing, if that.

Karl Benson, the WAC commissioner, reportedly is considering extending invitations to schools such as the University of Montana, Sacramento State, Portland State, California-Davis and various other members of NCAA subdivisions below that of the WAC and other major college conferences. Most would gladly accept such an offer, but the move would lessen the WAC's regard and, with it, that of UH.

Jim Donovan, UH's athletic director, has suggested that one option would be to go independent. That would mean joining only Notre Dame, Army and Navy in that status and trying to lure teams to make long and expensive trips that, if the program were to be successful, would risk defeat. That has not worked well in non-conference scheduling in the past and it would be self-defeating if tried in the future.

Hawaii would like to be part of the Pac-10 or Mountain West, but neither seems probable. The latter is obviously more in the realm of UH's level of prowess, but Mountain West schools are reluctant to return to costly trips to the islands. UH may need to offer unprecedented sharing of travel costs in order to gain readmission to the league.

In the meantime, the UH athletic program should make a concerted effort to recruit athletes from throughout Asia, an idea suggested by the Star-Advertiser's Ferd Lewis that holds intriguing potential for talent as well as for Hawaii marketing and visibility. Former basketball Coach Riley Wallace successfully lured players from Europe and other coaches should take advantage of Hawaii's proximity to draw talent from this side of the globe.

The end of this month's reshuffling among conferences should not allow Manoa officials to sigh in relief as if a time out had been called. Expectation that the realignment is not complete should energize UH to become a player rather than a spectator as negotiations continue, with the goal of gaining a permanent spot in a major conference.

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