Sports teams will depart the Western Athletic Conference in 2012
POSTED: 1:30 a.m. HST, Dec 11, 2010
LAST UPDATED: 11:25 a.m. HST, Dec 11, 2010
In what could be pricey early Christmas gifts, the University of Hawaii announced yesterday that it received — and accepted — invitations to join the Mountain West Conference in football and the Big West Conference in all other sports except men's volleyball, sailing and swimming and diving.
The Big West does not compete in football, and UH's men's volleyball and swimming teams are members of the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation.
"This is what our coaches and what our fans want," UH athletic director Jim Donovan said, "and we delivered."
UH will secede from the Western Athletic Conference on June 30, 2012. UH is the WAC's senior member, having joined in 1979.
The announced departures of Boise State, Fresno State, Nevada and UH will leave the WAC with seven football-playing schools in 2012, including Texas State and Texas-San Antonio, both of which will join that year.
"People don't like change," said UH President M.R.C. Greenwood, who spearheaded the so-called "leadership committee" that led the UH initiative, "but this is a change for the positive."
Donovan said the WAC was hurt the past in the summer when Boise State, Fresno State and Nevada announced their intent to join the Mountain West.
Donovan said the geography of the WAC was moving eastward, "and the concern I had was eventually some of those schools would start asking for travel subsidies because of the cost, for them, to travel to Hawaii."
BY THE NUMBERS$150,000-175,000
Estimated amount UH will have to pay Mountain West football teams for each visit to Hawaii.
But San Diego State athletic director Jim Sterk told the San Diego Union-Tribune that UH would be expected to pay between $150,000 and $175,000 per visiting Mountain West football team in "cost sharing."
Big West Commissioner Dennis Farrell said "there will be costs" UH will pay to visiting Big West teams. "It will happen," he said, although an amount has not been decided.
UH will relinquish the television rights to its sports to the Mountain West and Big West.
UH currently earns $450,000 annually as its share of a deal between the WAC and sports cable-television network ESPN.
In addition, UH earns roughly $2.5 million, mostly from pay-per-view subscriptions, in a deal with Oceanic Time Warner Cable and television station KFVE.
The Mountain West has national television deals with the CBS College Sports Network, Versus and Mountain. In 2009 all but four football games involving Mountain West teams were shown on those channels. If the same arrangements were in place in 2012, most UH games would not be available for pay-per-view sales. Oceanic's UH rights are superseded by the Mountain West's national contract.
However, each Mountain West team receives about $1.45 million a year from the national television deal. And with the loss of three key members, UH, if it had chosen to remain in the WAC, would receive a reduced share, probably about $100,000 annually, from the WAC's deal with ESPN.
In debating whether to leave the WAC, Donovan said, the leadership committee decided "we couldn't afford not to do it."
Donovan said UH can earn additional revenue with increased ticket sales playing familiar football opponents. All of the Mountain West teams used to be WAC members. Donovan said the shorter distances between schools in the Big West — all of the current schools are in California — will offer considerable savings on travel.
WAC Commissioner Karl Benson said, "This was not unexpected. ... At this point we'll have to move forward."
Benson likely does not want to look back to December 2009, when the Big Ten announced it wanted to expand, causing a ripple that eventually would shake the college football landscape.
With teams prepared to switch conferences, Farrell met with the leaders of Big West schools in February and March to "start making contingency plans."
In April, Farrell and Donovan were on the same flight. They reminisced about the 12 years UH women's teams spent in the Big West.
In June, Boise State announced it would leave the WAC. In August, Fresno State and Nevada did the same. Farrell and Donovan then met to discuss the possibility of UH joining the Big West in sports other than football.
In October, Howard Karr, chairman of the UH Board of Regents, and Greenwood formed what would be dubbed the "leadership committee." Rockne Freitas, UH vice president of academic affairs, was summoned to be what Karr called the "traveling liaison."
Freitas reached out to Nevada-Las Vegas President Neal Smatresk, a former UH official who served as chairman of the Mountain West's board of directors. Smatresk led a movement to persuade leaders of Mountain West schools to consider extending an invitation to the Warriors football team.
At the same time, at Farrell's urging, the Big West lifted a moratorium on adding members. UH, Bakersfield State and UC-San Diego applied for membership in the Big West.
UC-San Diego was eliminated because it is still a member of NCAA Division II. In comparing Bakersfield, a new Division I member, with Hawaii, Farrell said, "It became obvious Hawaii was the right fit for us."
Farrell cited UH's academic and athletic successes, as well as UH's history with the conference.
The Big West Counsel — composed of athletic directors, senior women's sports administrators and faculty representatives — voted unanimously Wednesday to extend an invitation to UH's nonfootball sports. The board of directors, composed of university presidents and chancellors, unanimously approved the measure in an e-mail vote that concluded Thursday night.
Yesterday morning the Mountain West presidents approved a measure to invite UH as a football-only member.
During yesterday's news conference, there were two rectangular placards, in holiday gift wrapping, on easels behind the podium. Unveiled, they showed the logos of the Mountain West and Big West.
"It's the best Christmas present I could possibly dream of," Donovan said.