Rarely have the 2,500 miles that separate the University of Hawaii from its nearest major college competition carried more uncertainty or concern for the Warriors than they do today.
While UH will hold onto Boise State, its biggest Western Athletic Conference football rival, for at least a while longer as the Mountain West Conference goes into a holding pattern on expansion, the mounting volatility of the situation underlines the Warriors’ vulnerability.
"At this point, the landscape is really unknown because there is a lot of uncertainty with the different conferences," said Manoa Chancellor Virginia Hinshaw, who is attending the WAC Board of Directors meeting in Las Vegas.
What does that mean for UH? "Only time will tell as everyone goes through their process," Hinshaw said.
Until last week, when reports of a possible merger between the Pac-10 and Big 12 burst into the headlines, UH’s biggest immediate concern was losing Boise State, the WAC’s football pacesetter, to the Mountain West. But the MWC’s sudden pause has added new layers of "what if?" possibilities and concerns.
The Broncos, who have won or shared seven of the past eight WAC football titles, are responsible for two of the WAC’s three Bowl Championship Series appearances and are projected to compete for another one in a 2010 season in which they are expected to be ranked among the top five in the preseason polls.
Until last week, UH athletic director Jim Donovan said, "it was probably 90 to 95 percent that the MWC would invite Boise (yesterday)." WAC commissioner Karl Benson said he still expects Boise State to be issued an invitation by the Mountain West "much sooner than later."
Benson suggested the WAC might push back the July 1, 2010, deadline by which the Broncos can tender their resignation for 2011 in exhange for a stiffer buyout clause.
What "threw a curveball" at the MWC’s plans for at least the moment, Donovan said, was the Pac-10-Big 12 romance that could involve as many as six Big 12 teams joining the Pac-10. Most prominently mentioned are Colorado, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas, Texas A&M and Texas Tech.
With the growing Pac-10-Big 12 rumblings, the Mountain West Board of Directors punted on expansion yesterday, not even taking a vote, a spokesman said. "Given the uncertainty in the intercollegiate landscape and the potential for significant shifts in the immediate future, the board did not make a decision to expand at the present time," MWC commissioner Craig Thompson said in a statement. "The MWC will continue to monitor developments. …"
A clearly disappointed Bob Kustra, the Boise State president, said, "The MWC’s decision not to expand is understandable at this time of uncertainty in intercollegiate athletics." Kustra said, "The most appropriate action at this juncture is to wait and see how the variables unfold."
But if the Pac-10 absorbs multiple Big 12 members, the WAC could be in for a wilder ride. "We’re in a very, very volatile time," Benson said on a couple of occasions yesterday.
The Pac-10’s silence on overtures from UH has told the Warriors where they stand on that front. And the nine Mountain West schools that bolted from past associations with the WAC and UH have previously cited travel time and expenses as making the Warriors a less-than-desirable partner.
UH’s biggest standing fear has been that additional WAC members, such as Fresno State and Nevada, might follow Boise State out the door without an invitation for the Warriors.
Benson cautioned it is hard to know where the upcoming rounds of expansion might take the WAC.
He said "there might be some (schools) out there not yet on our radar screen" in the so-called WAC "footprint" between the West Coast and Louisiana Tech.
For perhaps the first time in its 48-year history, the WAC is looking at the real possibility of adding teams directly from the former Division I-AA, now known as the Football Championship Subdivision. Boise State and Idaho are among the former I-AA teams the WAC has taken on, but both had achieved I-A status before joining the WAC.
Although Benson has declined to specify which ones the WAC might consider now, Montana, UC Davis, Sacramento State, Cal Poly (San Luis Obispo) and Portland State have frequently been mentioned as possibilities. But there is currently an NCAA moratorium on elevation to FBS status and none of them could be on board as full-fledged Football Bowl Subdivision members before 2012, Benson said, or be eligible for a bowl bid until 2013.
UH and other FBS members may count only one victory over an FCS member for bowl eligibility purposes each year.
"I certainly enjoy having Boise State in the WAC," Hinshaw said.
For how much longer – and what might follow in the Broncos’ absence – remains to be seen.