As the University of Hawaii considers its next step in a swiftly changing conference landscape, school officials continue to explore future scheduling options with an eye on possibly becoming an independent in football.
Athletic director Jim Donovan said Army and Navy, both independents, have responded positively to the prospect of playing UH in the middle of what would be a conference season.
Donovan said UH also initiated contact with Notre Dame regarding a possible home-and-home arrangement farther down the line, and "they said there’s an interest."
UH’s consideration of independence continued as Brigham Young University yesterday announced its intention to leave the Mountain West Conference to compete as an independent in football and move most of its other programs to the West Coast Conference starting in 2011.
With recent defections destabilizing the Western Athletic Conference and the impending departures of Utah and BYU altering the MWC’s dynamic beyond the current athletic year, Donovan said UH will "look at all our options" while facing a June 30, 2011, deadline for a decision on whether to remain in the WAC.
Donovan stressed to reporters that no decision had been made yet by UH president M.R.C. Greenwood and Manoa chancellor Virginia Hinshaw. He said his role is to continually provide them with information and advice.
"Two months ago Boise State jumped to somewhere very different than they have now. Two weeks ago Fresno State and Nevada went to somewhere that is significantly different than what they have now," Donovan said, referencing those schools’ moves to the MWC. "We’d be foolish not to learn from what happened to Boise State, Fresno and Nevada. Our job is to make sure if UH jumps to something, it is not quicksand."
Donovan and athletic directors from the other five remaining WAC schools comprise a membership committee formed to identify and evaluate prospective schools for conference expansion following the 2011-12 season.
In the wake of the Aug. 18 announcements by Fresno State and Nevada that they would join the MWC, leaving the WAC with six members, Donovan said UH might explore a course similar to BYU’s in going independent in football and joining another conference in other sports.
"We’ve been in conversations (with WAC commissioner Karl Benson), myself and Virginia Hinshaw. We’re aware of what the WAC’s intentions are," Donovan said.
The ripples of BYU’s decision reached Hawaii yesterday with an agreement that the WAC will help fill the Cougars’ football schedule in 2011 and ’12. The WAC will provide five games in 2011 and four in 2012, with UH involved both years.
The Cougars will fill the spot vacated by Boise State in UH’s 2011 schedule. BYU will also face Idaho, Louisiana Tech, New Mexico State and San Jose State. Dates and sites will be announced later.
UH had previously scheduled games with BYU in 2012 in Provo and 2013 in Honolulu.
"I think it’s huge we reestablished that rivalry in football," Donovan said.
The relationship with BYU could also provide UH with greater television exposure. BYU athletic director Tom Holmoe announced the school and ESPN reached an eight-year deal for the network or one of its affiliates to broadcast the Cougars’ home games.
BYU had planned to go independent and join the WAC in other sports until the MWC swiped Fresno State and Nevada. The school stuck with the plan for independence, but found a new home for its other sports in the WCC.
Holmoe said scheduling as one of just four independents in major college football was an obvious risk that BYU considered, but felt the Cougars still have enough name recognition and a large fan base that should make building a schedule without eight conference games at least a little easier.
One of the future opponents will likely be Notre Dame, which Holmoe said is working with BYU to iron out the details on a six-game deal through 2020. Another is archrival Utah, which is also leaving the Mountain West after getting an invitation to join the Pac-10 next year.
The Cougars will also be without the Mountain West’s guaranteed bowl spots and there will be no league title to try to win. But Holmoe said BYU will have more chances to play in the spotlight on ESPN.
The WCC does not compete in track and field, swimming and softball, so there are still some BYU teams without homes. Holmoe said that is one of the many details left to resolve, one of many ahead now that BYU has committed to leaving the Mountain West, effective in June 2011.