Honolulu Star-Advertiser

Wednesday, May 29, 2024 82° Today's Paper

Ferd's Words

Give a cheer for Smatresk, who fought for old Hawaii

Ferd Lewis

You hesitate to term it a tradition because it isn’t an act that need be perpetuated, but it has become common for Aloha Stadium crowds to boo opponents when they take the field against the University of Hawaii.

Tonight, especially, should be the exception to the practice.

The Warriors play Nevada-Las Vegas, and those who consider pending entrance to the Mountain West Conference a Christmas gift in the wrapping might want to express appreciation with a round of polite applause to a man, UNLV president Neal Smatresk, and his school, who have done a lot to put it into motion.

Besides, as 35-point underdogs, the 2-10 Rebels hardly need the abuse.

Without an assist by Smatresk, who is scheduled to be on hand tonight, the Warriors could still be waiting for the phone to ring. They might still have one foot on the precarious ledge of independence or be contemplating a 2012 home WAC opener against Texas State.

It was Smatresk, we are told, who brought UH and the MWC together. It was Smatresk, vice chair of the MWC Board of Directors, who hosted the first face-to-face meeting between UH vice president Rockne Freitas and MWC commissioner Craig Thompson in Las Vegas and has talked up the benefits of such a union.

Smatresk declines to say who approached whom first, quipping, "What’s the expression? ‘Great minds think along the same channel’?"

But, speaking as an individual and not on behalf of the MWC, he acknowledges, "Personally, I’ve been an advocate for Hawaii joining the league and I hope we can get this resolved so we can all prepare as we need to for the things we have to do."

"A champion of our cause," is how one UH administrator termed Smatresk’s involvement. At the Bachman Hall press conference announcing the UH-MWC discussions last month, UH president M.R.C. Greenwood saluted Smatresk as "one of our own."

That was a reference to his years (2004-07) at UH as vice chancellor for academic affairs, a period in which he formed friendships with a number of administrators, including Freitas, and came to understand "(personally), from a football perspective, I think, Hawaii has had a long record of competitive programs. I think the football team can play in most leagues in the country. And, in my opinion, there’s always been a little extra pizzazz or sparkle around a Hawaii contest that we think could draw television viewership and expand our market."

Besides, Smatresk admits, "When I hear that ‘Hawaii Five-O’ (song), it still gets the blood pumping."

Among the UH "team" helping to put this together — Greenwood, Jim Donovan, Freitas, etc. — if UH ends up in the MWC as expected, it will be two people with UH ties, Smatresk and former assistant basketball coach Jamie Dixon, who have had remarkable supporting roles.

Dixon, head coach at nationally ranked Pittsburgh, brought his alma mater, Texas Christian, together with his current league, the Big East, on the once far-fetched expansion idea. The prospect of that marriage helped the MWC, through Smatresk’s urgings, see the wisdom of looking closer at Hawaii.

Maybe this "alumni" help shouldn’t be a surprise. As Smatresk says, "Once you’ve been part of Hawaii, I think a little aloha stays with you."

And, that’s something worth cheering tonight.

Reach Ferd Lewis at flewis@staradvertiser.com.


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