Honolulu Star-Advertiser

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Coaches keep focus amid WAC ‘what ifs’

Bob Coolen has resisted the temptation of clicking through the various websites spewing speculation on the future of the Western Athletic Conference and — by association — the University of Hawaii athletic department.

With players settling in for the start of the fall semester, which begins Monday, the Rainbow Wahine softball coach preferred to keep his focus on the present rather that dwell on future uncertainty.

"That would just consume me if I started reading that stuff," Coolen said. "I’m going to go day-to-day. Right now, we’re staying the course. This year is intact, so we can’t worry too much about beyond this year."

Still, it was hard to escape the "what if" scenarios floating around since Wednesday’s announcement that Fresno State and Nevada would join Boise State in ditching the WAC for the Mountain West Conference.

While the upcoming sports year will mark Boise State’s final run in the league, Fresno State and Nevada could stick around through 2012 unless the WAC elects to release them next summer.

Football remains at the core of the shakeup that severely destabilized the WAC’s future. But the decisions to come will be felt throughout the UH athletic department.

"We have a job at hand to prepare our teams for competition, and we have full faith in our leadership," said women’s basketball coach Dana Takahara-Dias. "We can only control what we can control; those are the things we’re going to start focusing on in the next week or so. … It’s another school year and another opportunity to put together something special."

In the wake of Wednesday’s announcements, UH athletic director Jim Donovan said the school would study several options, including staying in a dramatically altered WAC, jumping to another league, or competing as an independent in football and moving the rest of the sports to another conference.

Presented with a hypothetical scenario in which the WAC disbanded, "both the West Coast (Conference) and Big West would make the most sense," women’s volleyball coach Dave Shoji said.

"But football’s got to be the first consideration," he said. "It’s what generates most of the money."

UH’s women’s teams were members of the Big West until 1996, when they joined the men’s programs in the WAC. Neither the Big West nor WCC sponsor football.

As for the schools leaving the WAC, the impending absence of conference rivalries with Fresno State and Nevada will take some getting used to for veteran UH coaches.

Fresno State’s women’s basketball team has won or shared the WAC regular-season title each of the past three years. The Bulldogs’ baseball team won the College World Series in 2008 and the softball program has qualified for the postseason ever since the NCAA tournament’s inception, winning a national title and 10 WAC regular-season championships.

"They’re our nemesis and our arch rival," Coolen said of the Wolf Pack and Bulldogs.

"Fresno was always that team you wanted to compete well against and show that you could beat them. … That’s something that’s going to change the nature of our conference tremendously."

The whiplash-inducing turn in fortunes for the WAC, which was on the verge of adding BYU as a non-football member before the latest defections, generated considerable angst among the remaining six members. Now school administrators face decisions that will define the directions of their programs.

"We definitely need to consider our options, and we’re going to have to choose the option that benefits the department as a whole," baseball coach Mike Trapasso said. "There are a couple of options out there that might make what looked like a nightmare scenario into a great opportunity."

UH chancellor Virginia S. Hinshaw echoed that sentiment.

"In dealing with the current athletic conference issues, athletics director Jim Donovan and I are working on solutions that best serve the interests of our university and Hawaii," Hinshaw said. "There are always solutions, and the people of Hawaii have demonstrated many times their ability to find solutions and move forward. We appreciate your support as we work for that outcome."

Star-Advertiser reporter Cindy Luis contributed to this story.


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