High fives have erupted across the state for good reason. The University of Hawaii football program’s acceptance by the Mountain West Conference rescues it from a depleted Western Athletic Conference, and the future suddenly looks bright, very bright. UH administrators and athletic department leaders deserve loud cheers for their impressive victory.
Details still are to be worked out before the agreement is formalized, but the end result was reflected in the Cheshire grins exhibited at Thursday night’s news conference by UH President M.R.C. Greenwood, UH-Manoa Chancellor Virginia Hinshaw, athletic director Jim Donovan and football coach Greg McMackin.
The smiles – and relief – should extend far beyond the Manoa campus and Aloha Stadium, for the presence of a competitive Hawaii football team in a major conference has immeasurable economic value. Many families are reluctant to live in an area that lacks a professional or, at the very least, a major college sports team. In Hawaii, the Warriors are it, as employers looking for valuable hires to relocate should know.
UH had been left behind earlier this year when Boise State, Fresno State and Nevada made agreements to switch from the WAC to the Mountain West, terribly weakening the WAC. The departure brought memories of the Mountain West being formed 11 years ago when core members of the old Skyline Conference that had started up the WAC in 1962 abandoned ship. Those left behind in the WAC were angry, but UH has learned that self-interest trumps league loyalty.
While the football Warriors will go to the Mountain West, UH’s Rainbows and Wahine will compete in other sports in the Big West Conference, consisting of nine California athletic programs that UH has faced in numerous sports, according to plans that are nearing formal approval.
Major focus in the realignment is on football for good reason. In colleges, dollars are made on the gridiron while other sports normally run in the red. Hawaii, playing in the highly respected Mountain West against familiar rivals, should be much more lucrative than it has been recently in the WAC.
If all goes as planned, Hawaii’s Mountain West debut will be in fall 2012. Officials have kept mum on UH paying for travel subsidies, but that’s been a key talking point. Hawaii fans – in the public, private and nonprofit sectors – now need to be willing to buoy the program with attendance, sales and donations.
Hawaii is the fourth WAC program this year to agree to transfer to the Mountain West, which in turn will be abandoned by Utah, for the Pac 10, and Brigham Young, going independent. Highly ranked Texas Christian University reportedly may leave the Mountain West for the Big East, a Bowl Championship Series league in which the champion is assured a major bowl appearance.
With or without TCU, the Mountain West may want to add enough teams to divide them into two divisions, if that would increase its ability to be included among the BCS conferences. Whatever decisions come there, UH is in great scoring position after months of setbacks. With its rivalries, recruiting and overall program suddenly looking strong again, it’s game on for Hawaii