The University of Hawaii women’s volleyball team opens pursuit of a remarkable 13th consecutive Western Athletic Conference championship tonight against Utah State.
But the bigger, looming question is will this season become their penultimate campaign — and title — in the conference?
As the rumblings about the possibility of UH going independent in football grow, so, too, does the dialogue about a return to their former home, the Big West Conference, for the Rainbow Wahine.
Officially, while UH "considers its options" amid the changing collegiate landscape, the school has spoken at least twice to the Big West. And while officials involved will barely acknowledge the conversations, it is clearly not an unrequited romance.
As a prominent athletic director in the conference put it, "I’m just one voice in the Big West Conference, but if U of Hawaii (is) interested in joining, there would certainly be a lot of support if all the travel budgets could be reasonably worked out in advance."
Translation: If UH antes up on travel subsidies, welcome to the party.
Be assured UH has been told as much privately. The only question is how much will it have to come up with.
And, of course, where it will find the funds — perhaps $250,000 or more annually — to do the deal.
The nine-school Big West, which is composed entirely of California-based schools (Cal Poly, Cal State Fullerton, Cal State Northridge, Long Beach State, UC Davis, UC Irvine, UC Riverside, UC Santa Barbara and Pacific), has been hit hard by the economy and has little interest in adding to its bills by taking on a new, more distant, member.
The AD noted, "It would probably save U of Hawaii a lot of travel expense money (too) by maintaining league travel competition in the state of California."
The Big West would be familiar territory to the Rainbow Wahine, who competed in the conference from 1985 through ’95, winning five titles prior to joining the WAC. Indeed, a lot of the rivalry UH has found missing in the WAC was left behind in the old Big West.
Back then, Pacific and Long Beach State were the best of enemies for the Rainbow Wahine, helping to fill Klum Gym and charge up its successor, the Stan Sheriff Center.
A lot of the competition the Rainbow Wahine have lacked is also attributable to the WAC. Apart from New Mexico State, nobody has pushed UH with consistency or beat them in a manner to supply much drama.
Should UH take the plunge and decide to go independent in football and move all its other sports, including Wahine volleyball, to the Big West, it would have to notify the WAC before July 1, 2011, in order to be able to compete elsewhere for the 2012-13 season.
While football drives the conference affiliation issue, the Rainbow Wahine are more than bystanders in the conversation. As UH’s most decorated sport, women’s volleyball will — and should — have something to say on the matter.
Whichever way it goes, one thing is for sure: Since joining the WAC, this is the most serious UH has been at addressing the possibility of playing an aloha ball.