Acceptance into the Mountain West Conference puts the University of Hawaii’s football program within short yardage of reaching the big leagues. That comes at a financial cost that UH has accepted in the past as the price of being in a remote location. While the cost remains well worth the opportunity, public funds remain tight. Warrior boosters should be ready to play a role in this worthwhile investment.
The cost of covering travel expenses for visiting teams is expected to total nearly $1.2 million a year for MWC football teams and other sports teams in the Big West. UH has gone 15 years without subsidized travel to the islands for members of the Western Athletic Conference, which it will depart in 2012 to hook up with the MWC and Big West. It has subsidized travel costs for visiting nonconference opponents, such as $100,000 to Southern California for this season’s opener.
Gov. Neil Abercrombie told the Star-Advertiser’s editorial board during the campaign that Hawaii "can always solve a money question" to gain UH’s welcome into its destined conferences. Perhaps. But the new governor faces plenty of other budgetary challenges and competing priorities, including a tattered social safety net. Bringing the pigskin onto the playing field can’t be his top priority.
Fortunately, dipping into the state’s general fund can be avoided. Jim Donovan, the UH athletic director, is counting on increased ticket sales, higher fees for television rights and savings on UH team travel, which will be confined mostly to the West Coast. "It could be a wash," he said.
And fans of Mountain West football have legitimate hopes of the Warriors reaching the gold at the end of the rainbow — inclusion in the Bowl Championship Series, which was a factor in Hawaii’s acceptance into the MWC. The BCS now is limited to six elite conferences, each of them guaranteed a spot in end-of-season bowl games with a payout of at least $17 million.
In a tumultuous six months, powerhouses Texas Christian University, Brigham Young and Utah made plans to depart the Mountain West, to be replaced by Boise State, followed by Nevada and Fresno State and finally Hawaii — the four universities that have comprised the strength of the WAC in recent years.
The shakeup should leave the MWC at the door to the BCS elite, which measures leagues’ automatic status in qualifying for the five major bowl games. The criteria consists of the Top 25 ranking of league members, highest-ranked champions and overall conference ranking. The BCS is in the third year of a four-year cycle in making the reassessment.
The Big East Conference has struggled in recent years to hang on to its BCS inclusion, relying on waivers by the organization. That was the motivation of the Big East this year for extending an invitation to Rose Bowl-bound Texas Christian, which accepted.
Still, the realignment of the Mountain West Conference should not lessen its chance of eventual inclusion in the BCS. That has remained the goal of the conference since its inception by WAC renegade institutions 12 years ago. Achieving that status would be a source of not only pride but financial comfort in Manoa.