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Ferd's Words

Hawaii needs to position itself as a player for next shuffle

With a loud "clang" that resonated all the way to Manoa, the Mountain West Conference yesterday slammed the gate on expansion for the time being.

For the next three to five years, MWC commissioner Craig Thompson said, "we are done."

If you are the University of Hawaii, however, the work has just begun. Or, should have.

UH should take to heart the events of the past weeks with a sense of urgency and lay the groundwork so that when the next tsunami of expansion rolls across the major college landscape it is holding onto something more than just a prayer.

Because while the departure of Boise State significantly weakened the Western Athletic Conference this week, it could have been worse for UH. Much worse.

The nightmare scenario would have been if the MWC lost more than Utah and been forced to raid the WAC for multiple members without knocking on UH’s door. Imagine being stranded in a WAC minus Boise State, Fresno State and Nevada.

That is a chilling thought that should inspire UH to a thorough reevaluation of where it wants to be and an imaginative and substantive plan of what it is going to do to get there.

It should inspire a vision that is shared beyond the athletic department and Hawaii Hall to Bachman Hall, Washington Place and the Capitol.

As events of recent days have taught us, UH might not want to look at that three to five years as a hard and fast timetable, either. There are any number of situations that could trigger another round of conference realignment a lot sooner. A move by Notre Dame, a hiccup by the Big Ten, you name it.

Whatever kicks it off, it would be inexcusable and foolhardy for UH to be unprepared when the ground starts to shake anew.

Realignment has increasingly become part of the major college environment, but rarely has UH been fully prepared to take advantage of it. You have to go back to 1996, if not 1978, when UH was voted into the WAC, to find a time when the school was positioned to improve itself.

It might not be able to survive missing another opportunity.

UH got into the WAC only because after decades as an independent it had a solid plan that made sense and it had lobbied long and hard for years when the opening arrived. It had the vision of then-Gov. John A. Burns and the power of his office behind it.

Therein are the beginnings of a blueprint for the future, whether it be in the MWC, Pac-10 or some new, yet-to-be-imagined creation.

One of the main features will have to be a plan that mitigates travel costs for visiting teams whether through subsidies, the Hawaii exemption, creative marketing or a combination. Right now, and especially in this economy, heightened travel costs are an instant deal killer for any conference.

On the flip side, UH will have to bring money to any table it hopes to gain a seat at. Which means football and men’s basketball teams that get to the postseason and improve its TV identity.

For years UH has talked about creating a TV niche in Asia by getting athletes there. Mostly it has been just that – talk. It will have to do more in identifying, recruiting and developing prospects from Asia if it hopes to cash in there.

The events of the last few weeks should have been a wake-up call for UH, because it might not get another one.


Reach Ferd Lewis at flewis@staradvertiser.com.


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