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Hawaii looks to re-establish itself as a national player

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As President Barack Obama returns to the frozen tundra of the East Coast to reunite with the world’s problems, his home state is facing a few high hurdles of its own.

New Hawaii Gov. Neil Abercrombie addressed the challenges facing the University of Hawaii’s athletic programs during his run for public office and recognizes the economic impact events such as the Pro Bowl have on the local economy.

Here are three things to watch for in 2011 as the state tries to re-establish itself on the local and national sports scenes:

1. Having the Pro Bowl back in Hawaii for at least the next two years and the recent commitment by the PGA Tour to remain in the islands through 2014 are positive signs.

The Great Recession threatened to leave the island chain threadbare when it comes to national sports events. Had Hyundai not ridden to the rescue for the season-opening tour tourney on Maui, it could have sent a powerful signal to Sony not to continue its sponsorship on Oahu.

The state already had lost a Champions Tour event on Oahu, the Grand Slam of Golf on Kauai and two LPGA Tour events on Oahu, leaving local golf fans wondering if any professional tournaments would be around past 2011.

With the PGA Tour remaining in Hawaii and the NFL coming back to party hardy at the Pro Bowl, it gives the Hawaii Tourism Authority hope for the future. Keeping the NFL’s All-Star game on the docket will be a primary goal for the HTA as this year unfolds.

On the golf scene, the LPGA wants to return to the islands to showcase Michelle Wie as early as 2012. The senior circuit brought back the Kaanapali Champions Skins Game at the end of this month and would love to have a full-field event here in the near future if a deal can be worked out.

ESPN has given Hawaii plenty to be thankful for on the collegiate scene, with the successful Sheraton Hawaii Bowl, the Diamond Head Classic and the Maui Invitational. All will be around for the foreseeable future, even as the University of Hawaii prepares to leave behind the Western Athletic Conference.

2. If Kanani Danielson is going to bring home that elusive national championship for the Rainbow Wahine volleyball program, 2011 has to be it for the talented outside hitter.

The University of Hawaii is hosting a regional this year and it would behoove Hall of Fame coach Dave Shoji to have his team on the floor in the arena and not in the Stan Sheriff Center stands when the round of 16 begins on Dec. 9.

The 2010 team’s early postseason exit was a disappointment on many levels for a team that reached the final four in 2009. It’s important for the program to have folks hanging from the rafters after receiving a rare NCAA regional bid. It’s also key for Danielson to lead the Rainbow Wahine to the promised land and remove the bitter taste of being swept off the court by Washington to close out 2010.

3. The Hawaii football team’s role in the Mountain West Conference will likely be shaped this year as realignments continue on the national scene. It’s possible the MWC will expand to 12 and form two six-team divisions.

Depending on which teams are extended invitations — the MWC wants at least one school from Texas — Hawaii’s future division partners could include San Diego State, Nevada-Las Vegas, Fresno State and the University of Nevada.

These are football teams Hawaii fans can relate to and keeps down travel costs inherent in a 10-team league that includes such outposts as Wyoming and Colorado State.

Future MWC decisions on television broadcast rights also have a direct effect on UH’s successful pay-per-view platform. There might be no decisions reached in 2011, but the discussions will begin this year for UH athletic director Jim Donovan. The goal all along was to get into the MWC. Keeping the costs reasonable is the next task at hand.

 

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