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League switches welcomed


For 11 years, Jim Donovan watched in anguish as school after school was invited to the Mountain West Conference.

Yesterday afternoon, Hawaii finally received what amounted to a long-awaited invitation for its football team.

There are details to be worked out and papers to be signed, but based on a unanimous vote by Mountain West leaders, a deal is all but imminent that will allow the Warriors to compete in football in 2012.

"The important thing," said Donovan, UH’s athletic director and a former Warrior, "is we’re going to the dance. That’s always been the most important thing in my life. I’m a former offensive lineman, and no matter what it takes, we try to get the job done. We don’t expect a lot of fanfare. We just want to get the job done."

UH was in sports limbo after three schools announced this summer they would secede from the Western Athletic Conference, of which UH has been a member since 1979, to join the Mountain West. Boise State joins next summer; Fresno State and Nevada gain membership in July 2012.

"The day after Fresno and Nevada announced they were going to move, we made contacts with many conferences and many different entities," Donovan said.

He said that there were "realistically" five different scenarios, one of which involved the football team competing as an independent.

UH president M.R.C. Greenwood and the leaders of the Board of Regents apparently pushed negotiations with the Mountain West.

"Academically, we’re very strong," UH chancellor Virginia Hinshaw said. "We’re also highly competitive in a multitude of sports. We offer a different time slot (for national television). Our fans travel to games, and we have a lot of alumni on the mainland. People are aware of the many assets that Hawaii and our teams bring."

John McNamara, UH’s associate athletic director of external affairs, said the familiarity of the Mountain West — each member once competed in the WAC — will spur ticket sales, marketing and merchandising.

"It will be back to the future," McNamara said. "The teams we’ll be playing going forward are schools our fans are very familiar with."

UH head football coach Greg McMackin said joining the Mountain West will immediately improve recruiting. By the summer of 2012, San Jose State and Idaho will be the only WAC schools in the Pacific time zone.

"It’s really going to help recruiting," McMackin said. "Our players are really excited about it. I like the recruiting areas. I like the old rivalries being back together."

McMackin said he expects the college football landscape to shift, with more schools changing conferences.

"I think there’s going to be another earthquake," McMackin said. "It will be good to be in a solid league when that happens."

UH, of course, is not finished. Donovan said the intent is to move UH’s other sports into the Big West, which recently lifted its moratorium on expansion. "It’s not a done deal," Donovan cautioned, but said the Big West offers a better fit. He said the Mountain West was approached with only UH football seeking membership.

UH’s women’s teams once competed in the Big West.

"I think it’s a positive for all our other teams," women’s volleyball coach Dave Shoji said. "I think most of our coaches would agree with that. I’m sure our fans would be happy to see those (Big West) teams again."

Cindy Luis contributed to this report.


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