The million-dollar question for the University of Hawaii is: Will there be a USC football game?
Whether the Warriors open their 2010 season against the Trojans in 80 days, as scheduled, or suffer a seven-figure loss, is apparently in the hands of the NCAA, which slapped USC with a two-year probation Thursday that could make the Sept. 2 game at Aloha Stadium collateral damage.
Included in the sanctions against USC is a prohibition against exempted games. On page 57 of its 67-page report, the NCAA’s Division committee on infractions said, "…during the two years of this postseason ban, the football team may not take advantage of the exceptions to the limit in the number of football contests that are provided in Bylaw 220.127.116.11, with the exception of a spring game as set forth in Bylaw 18.104.22.168-(a)."
Bylaw 22.214.171.124, the so-called "Hawaii Exemption" permits visiting teams to play one game more than the NCAA maximum if traveling to Hawaii.
The rule was enacted after then-UH athletic director Hank Vasconcellos lobbied the NCAA Convention in 1955 to provide an incentive for teams to play Hawaii. It was prompted by San Jose State’s 11th-hour cancellation of a scheduled 1954 contest for financial reasons after tickets had already been printed and sold.
At the time, it granted an 11th game, one above the then-limit of 10.
The apparent intent of the committee on infractions ruling Thursday was to keep USC from using the same detour that Alabama took advantage of in 2002 and ’03 when the Crimson Tide were slapped with a two-year probation by the NCAA.
Barred from postseason play, Alabama instead scheduled a 13th game against UH in both 2002 and ’03, taking advantage of the Hawaii exemption to play one more game than the current NCAA limit of 12. The Crimson Tide billed the November games as their "bowl" games for recruiting purposes.
The difference this time, UH athletic director Jim Donovan said, is that the USC game "was scheduled in 2001, before there were any allegations."
Donovan said if the game was canceled UH would lose "more than a million dollars — and that is a conservative estimate" for an athletic department running approximately $2 million in the red.
It is the marquee home game on UH’s schedule, for which season-ticket sales are currently under way. USC’s last three appearances here have been sellouts, and the Trojans have requested 7,200 tickets for this one, which will be shown by ESPN.
Donovan said, based upon his experiences with the NCAA, he believes "they will do what makes sense." Donovan said UH is contacting the NCAA but that "any appeal will have to come from USC since it is their case."
A letter from USC President Steven B. Sample posted on the school’s website, said it will "appeal those penalties it believes are excessive."
A USC spokesman was not immediately available to say whether it has already contacted the NCAA about the Sept. 2 game.