The University of Hawaii is studying ways to preserve its tradition of marquee end-of-the-regular season games in the face of conference expansion that could threaten the lucrative practice.
With the Pac-10 and Big Ten conferences seemingly headed toward expansion to 12 or 16 members, UH fears its popular December finale could be impacted or face extinction.
Since the 1920s, when it began playing occasional major-college opponents, UH has made an almost annual practice of closing the regular season against a "name" opponent. Southern California, Nebraska and Wisconsin have made multiple appearances in that slot, while Michigan, Oklahoma and Notre Dame have also appeared.
But with the Pac-10 adding Colorado yesterday for an 11th member and the expectation that one to five more might come on board plus the likelihood of the Big Ten going to at least 12 teams, UH is concerned.
"It is something we’re looking at, trying to be proactive with," UH athletic director Jim Donovan said.
Under NCAA rules, conferences with 12 or more teams may hold championship games. They usually take place the first week in December, which ESPN annually bills as "championship week."
For UH, the problem is that slot is usually when it plays a "name" nonconference opponent to conclude the regular season. In recent years, for example, UH has closed against Wisconsin (2009), Cincinnati (2008), Washington (2007), Oregon State (2006) and Michigan State (2004) at Aloha Stadium.
Seven of UH’s 18 Aloha Stadium sellouts have come in the final weekend of the regular season. It has future regular-season-ending home games scheduled with Oregon State in 2011 and Washington in 2013.
"We’re trying to find a way to keep the (Pac-10 and Big Ten) conferences in the mix," Donovan said.
One proposal under study, Donovan said, would be to strike a deal whereby the conference agrees to send a designated representative here. That way if, for example, Wisconsin qualified for the conference championship game, a division runner-up would come in its place.
"Either that or we could take out insurance on the (opponent)," Donovan said.
Meanwhile, UH is also keeping an eye on how many conference games the new, expanded conferences will play. Currently Pac-10 teams play nine conference games and make three nonconference appearances. USC is one of the few that takes advantage of the 13th game permitted by the NCAA under the so-called "Hawaii Exemption."