POSTED: 1:30 a.m. HST, Aug 20, 2010
University of Hawaii sports have taken serious blows by the departure from the Western Athletic Conference of Boise State in June and Fresno State and Nevada this week. UH needs to assert leadership and use its clout in the WAC to counter Hawaii's geographic disadvantage, which has hampered growth of its program.
The exit of the three universities leaves the WAC with only six teams, two short of that required to call itself a conference in the NCAA's top tier, allowing it to compete in playoffs in all sports except football.
Brigham Young University was poised to leave the Mountain West Conference and go independent in football and join the WAC in other sports until Fresno State and Nevada announced that they will leave the WAC to join the Mountain West.
UH Athletics Director Jim Donovan said various options will be studied. Those include moving to a different conference and going independent in football or in all sports.
Unfortunately, no invitation to Hawaii is likely from prominent Division 1 conferences.
Going independent would be highly risky. Notre Dame, Army and Navy are independent in football but affiliated with conferences in other sports. Notre Dame has a deal guaranteeing a BCS bowl bid by ranking eighth or better at season's end. No school is entirely independent.
Going independent was fairly realistic for Brigham Young, which has a nationwide Mormon fan base not unlike Notre Dame's Roman Catholic following. BYU's hoped-for return to the WAC promised to restart UH's football battles against its favorite nemesis, but that now appears unlikely.
Karl Benson, the WAC commissioner, indicated in a teleconference yesterday that it was a "good assumption" that the conference would pursue schools closer to Louisiana Tech than the West Coast.
He said Texas-San Antonio and Texas State "will be on our list."
Other continuing WAC teams are Idaho, San Jose State, Utah State and New Mexico State.
Recruiting teams to the conference from the middle of the mainland to convenience Louisiana Tech would further isolate the Warriors. La Tech is likely to switch to Conference USA in its own neighborhood anyway.
Hawaii instead should urge fellow members of the WAC to extend invitations to schools from the West to keep the conference alive and put travel costs under control. Fresno State and Boise State gained prominence after joining the WAC in the 1990s. Numerous schools in Western states are likewise situated to jump to football's top tier and attain similar success.
Also in the mix is untapped community support for Hawaii's athletics program, and university, that could make a difference in affording innovative join-the-WAC enticements.
Remaining in the WAC is UH's only realistic choice. Using its seniority and success to steer the league toward membership reflecting its title is most likely to cut costs and pay dividends.