POSTED: 1:30 a.m. HST, Aug 25, 2010
The University of Hawaii athletic department finds itself at a crossroads. And if it stands in the middle of the intersection much longer, it's going to get run over.
The Western Athletic Conference will soon be down to six football teams (just one that had a winning record last year). Two of them, Louisiana Tech and Utah State, are making serious noise about being the next to head off to something that makes more sense for them.
Has it really come to that? The threat of LaTech and Utah State leaving causing additional despair?
It used to be a LaTech departure from the WESTERN Athletic Conference would be happily received. Nothing personal, but it is in LOUISIANA, and Louisiana hasn't been in the WEST since the end of the century ... the 18th century. The presence of both Hawaii and LaTech is a big part of what makes the WAC unattractive to prospective new members -- or serves as a good excuse for those bailing out.
Utah State? Not long ago, the Aggies' leaving would have rendered a collective shrug and been considered an extremely easy program to replace (its fine basketball team notwithstanding).
But now, every member, even LaTech, has become more valuable with each departure or the threat of one. So among the unappetizing possibilities of replacements for Boise State, Fresno State and Nevada are schools much closer to the Mississippi than the Pacific. Just one more reason for Hawaii to bolt and determine its own destiny.
UH needs to get while the getting is ... well, before the getting gets worse. Just because it's been in the conference the longest doesn't mean it has to go down with the ship.
Get out now, and help the WAC die a quicker death. The faster the better, before Karl Benson brings in schools from east of the Rockies and asks for another loyalty pledge that won't mean anything.
INDEPENDENCE IN football might not look like a good option because of scheduling and money considerations. But if the Warriors want to remain in the Football Bowl Subdivision level of programs, it's the only viable choice right now.
Here's why independence might work: Within another year or two, huge changes in conference alignment will bring about four 16-team super conferences. Texas put it on hold this year when it spurned the SEC, but it's going to happen.
(By the way, the Mountain West's not-so-secret fantasy is to crash the Sweet 16 party -- but that's about as likely as the Pac-Whatever-Number-It-Is-Now inviting UH. Slim and None, and Slim never even visited town.)
One result will be quite a few leftover teams scurrying around without football conferences; they'll be independents, not by choice. UH will be able to fill out its schedule with some of them -- or, if independence doesn't work out, can quickly become part of a new conference that would surely be better than what's now left of the WAC.
Yes, one sad reality of independence would be fewer home games. But athletic director Jim Donovan is an adept football scheduler. He's way ahead on nonconference scheduling; USC and BYU -- which always draw well -- don't mind coming here often, and why would they care if UH is in a conference or not?
As for the necessary "body bag" money games, some view this as the college football equivalent of selling chili tickets -- except that for each ticket you sell, you also get punched in the gut. Call me a dreamer, but I prefer the June Jones approach: Believe you can win at a powerhouse's home, like what almost happened at Alabama in '06. Have confidence that your team will be able to play with the best and reap the rewards. Use it as a recruiting tool, too.
Independence also means convincing the Big West or another conference to fly their soccer and baseball teams to Hawaii on a regular basis. That could be a tough sell, but UH has some attractive programs to add to the Big West's reputation and improve some RPIs. (And hosting the Wahine in volleyball won't hurt their gate one bit.)
Independence is by no means a perfect, foolproof solution. But UH should dump its losing hand now and get a head start on the best available option.