POSTED: 1:30 a.m. HST, Nov 19, 2010
LAST UPDATED: 7:57 p.m. HST, Nov 19, 2010
After months of anxiety, the University of Hawaii's athletic future suddenly came into focus last night with the stunning revelation that it expects to leave the Western Athletic Conference to join the Mountain West Conference in football and place most of its other sports in the Big West Conference.
UH has been a member of the WAC, the only conference home its football team has had, for 32 years. Talks are still pending, but school officials left little doubt the move will be made for the 2012-13 season.
"We have no reason to believe this is not going to move on a positive trajectory and that we will not have the official announcement (of agreement)," an exultant UH President M.R.C. Greenwood said during an evening news conference at Bachman Hall.
The presidents of the Mountain West Conference member schools met yesterday by conference call and an MWC spokesman told the Star-Advertiser, "The Mountain West Conference Board of Directors has authorized Commissioner Craig Thompson to begin discussions with the University of Hawaii regarding possible membership in the sport of football only."
Sources familiar with the process said the MWC membership has already been polled and is agreeable to UH's entrance under certain conditions, which are believed to include travel subsidies.
UH has indicated the subsidies, which will underwrite conference opponents coming to play in Aloha Stadium, will not be a problem.
MOUNTAIN WEST MEMBERS» Air Force
» Brigham Young, leaving next season
» Colorado State
» New Mexico
» San Diego State
» Utah, leaving next season
Joining next season: Boise State
Joining in two seasons: Nevada, Fresno State, Hawaii
BIG WEST MEMBERS» Cal Poly San Luis Obispo
» Cal State Fullerton
» Cal State Northridge
» Long Beach State
» UC Davis
» UC Irvine
» UC Riverside
» UC Santa Barbara
Signs last night pointed to the expected agreement having grown out of initial back-channel work done by UH Vice President Rockne Freitas and former UH administrator Neal Smatresk, who is president of the University of Nevada-Las Vegas, an original MWC member.
Greenwood and others made prominent mention of their "key" involvement as part of the "UH team" that has brought what is described as a "strong agreement in principle" to the table.
Smatresk was UH's chief academic officer from 2004-07 when he left for UNLV, where he became president in 2009 and now occupies a key role with the MWC Board of Directors.
Earlier in the day Greenwood briefed the UH Board of Regents at a meeting on Maui, where Vice Chairman Dennis Hirota said, "everyone was very happy."
There were reports of some high-fives among regents, such was the relief after months of growing concern about where recent conference shake-ups had left the state's only NCAA Division I athletic program.
UH's future has been the subject of anxious speculation over the past five months as conference realignment has changed the face of the WAC that Hawaii has called home since 1979. The announced departure of football powerhouse Boise State to the MWC in 2011, and subsequent defections by Fresno State and Nevada taking place in 2012-13 were expected to leave UH further adrift, prompting the school to talk with the MWC while also exploring the possibility of going independent.
The WAC's recent announcement of the addition of Texas-San Antonio, Texas State and Denver for 2012-13 only exacerbated concerns.
"The WAC was moving more geography-wise toward the middle of the country, which is more difficult for us on travel and more expensive," Donovan said. The new WAC, he added, would mean "having less and less known rivalries with teams that were going to be in the WAC."
But a move to the MWC, which will include eight schools of the former WAC, will reunite UH with schools it has maintained relationships with for decades.
"You look at Air Force, UNLV, San Diego State, Boise State, Nevada, Fresno State ... these are the schools that our fans resonate with," Donovan said. "And we're going to be joining them and playing against them. That will help us at the gate and help (in recruiting)."
UH's departure could make it difficult for the WAC, which has been in operation since 1962, to continue. Donovan said, "we're obviously concerned about our colleagues out there, but the reality is that we're charged with doing what is best for (UH) and that's what we're doing."
Before the news conference, WAC commissioner Karl Benson said UH had not advised him of an impending change in membership. Benson said he was "surprised" by the developments, but added, "I've been surprised before."
Donovan said a UH move to the MWC would not involve a buyout such as the $900,000 that both Nevada and Fresno State have agreed to pay. "We need to notify the WAC by June 30 of 2011," he said.
Said Greenwood: "The people in the state of Hawaii should be very positive about this and be convinced we have a bright future ahead of us."