POSTED: 1:30 a.m. HST, Dec 11, 2010
LAST UPDATED: 11:24 a.m. HST, Dec 11, 2010
When Hawaii moves most of its sports programs to the Big West, it'll leave behind the travel headaches that accompanied life in the Western Athletic Conference.
But other than more trips to California and fewer to the Central Time Zone, what awaits the Rainbow Warriors and Wahine in a new league?
Here's a look at what a move to the Big West might mean for some of Hawaii's teams.
Even with Fresno State's College World Series title in 2008, the WAC's profile had deteriorated, and the Bulldogs' departure to the Mountain West certainly won't help. The Big West, meanwhile, remains one of college baseball's power conferences. Last season, Cal State Fullerton, winner of four national championships, had the 12th-best Ratings Percentage Index and advanced to the Super Regionals. (RPI ranks teams by factoring their results and the quality of the teams they have played into a mathematical formula.) UC-Irvine (39th) also earned a regional bid. Long Beach State, another perennial contender, struggled last year but was in the top 100 even with a 23-32 record. Hawaii was the WAC's top program at 69th in the RPI, and surviving the conference grind to reach the postseason just got a lot tougher. None of the projected WAC holdovers ranked higher than 128th (New Mexico State). Newcomer Texas State (49th) won the last two Southland titles and could add some life to the WAC.
This week's Sagarin ratings rank the WAC 14th among Division I conferences. One has to scroll to 23rd to find the Big West. The only path to the NCAA Tournament from the Big West seems to be through winning the league tournament. UC-Santa Barbara's 20-win season earned the Gauchos a 15th regional seed in the NCAA Tournament last March, and they finished 97th in the RPI. The WAC sent two teams, Utah State and New Mexico State, to the NCAA Tournament last March after two years as a one-bid league. Hawaii has struggled against the Big West recently, with losses to Cal Poly, UC-Irvine, UC-Riverside and Long Beach State in the past four years.
Hawaii won Big West regular-season titles in 1993 and '94 before joining the men in the WAC, and Judy Mosley remains the league's all-time leader in rebounding and is second in scoring. The 1994 Rainbow Wahine team was also the last from the Big West to earn an at-large berth to the NCAA Tournament. Last season, UC-Davis won the regular-season title but had to settle for a WNIT bid when UC-Riverside won the Big West tournament. If UH head coach Dana Takahara-Dias can set a solid foundation in the program's rebuilding project over the next two years, the Wahine could enter the league as a contender.
The Big West sent two teams to this season's NCAA tournament, while Fresno State was the WAC's lone representative. UC-Irvine entered the NCAA tournament 20th in the RPI and reached the round of 16 before losing to Washington in overtime. Long Beach State (41st in RPI) also earned a bid and lost in the first round, as did Fresno State. WAC member-to-be Denver was 42nd but lost in the Sun Belt final. Hawaii finished at 246, dropping to 3-14-3 in Pinsoom Tenzing's final season, and a new coach will have a steeper challenge ahead with a conference change.
The departures of Fresno State and Nevada will take two of UH's primary rivals out of the WAC and cripple the league's national standing, after peaking in 2008 when it sent four teams to the regionals (Fresno State, Hawaii, Nevada and Louisiana Tech). A move to the Big West would reunite the Wahine — who have two NCAA Super Regional appearances in the past four years and went to the Women's College World Series last spring — with former nemesis Long Beach State, a national seed in the NCAA regionals two years ago. The Big West sent three teams to the postseason in 2009 but just one last spring, when UC-Davis earned the lone regional berth and lost to UH in its opening game.
The Big West isn't what it was when Hawaii, Pacific and Long Beach State were annual national championship contenders. But it should still provide stiffer competition and more compelling rivalries for a Wahine program that did not drop a set during the regular season in WAC play. Likewise, Hawaii — which won five PCAA/Big West titles before joining the WAC — would boost the Big West's profile considerably. Cal State Fullerton made its first NCAA tournament appearance by winning the Big West title this season, and Long Beach State received an at-large spot. Both lost in the first round.