Comedian-turned-Councilman Augie Tulba used to say, “that’s crazy, that’s nuts …” and then break into an observation about something that was “crazy” and “nuts.”
Here’s a suggestion that’s crazy and nuts: The University of Hawaii should seek membership in the Pac-12.
First, topping the list of reasons it won’t happen is: Nobody is inviting UH.
UH is not on any conference’s recruiting list, especially a 108-year-old league’s. Even when UH had a stadium that the NFL saw fit for its all-star game, even when the Rainbow Wahine were winning national volleyball titles, even when there was a government leader who promised a project’s completion before the end of the current term, the school was not a consideration. Not by the Pac-12 or its ancestors — Pacific Coast Conference (1915-1959), Athletic Association of Western Universities (1959-1968), Pac-8 (1968-1978), and Pac-10 (1978-2011). Not when Ray Nagel, Jim Donovan, Rockne Freitas and at least three governors made pleas.
UH does not meet the prerequisite of financial and alumni support, a large television market or a mainland zip code. It does not have, pardon the French, a certain je ne sais quoi that the Pac-12 seeks. “Cal, Stanford, Oregon and Hawaii” is a bumper sticker, not a quadrant.
But the anticipated rejection should not stop UH from giving it the old college try. To borrow the party crasher’s motto: If you only went to places you were invited, you’d never go anywhere at all.
Now is the time to build a case. San Diego State and Fresno State already are working on their cover letters. They know there are cracks in the Pac-12’s structure. USC and UCLA are departing for the Big Ten. Maybe Oregon laces its Nike shoes and also sprints to the coast-to-coast Big Ten. The so-called Four Corner schools — Arizona, Arizona State, Utah and Colorado — are Big 12 targets. If the Pac-12 needs to replenish, why not consider a respected research university with a statewide fan base and last-TV-event-of-the-day time slot?
UH, as a football-only affiliate of the Mountain West, might want to have a back-up plan for its current situation. This coming season, the Mountain West is dumping the two six-team divisions and going with one 12-team format. With geographic rivals being scrapped — UH and Fresno State don’t meet this season — the Mountain West no longer needs an even number of teams. Guess who could be the odd team out?
Would it be worth it to try to join a depleted Pac-12? Of course. It’s all about branding. “Hamilton” still sold out the Blaisdell despite a traveling cast that did not include Lin-Manuel Miranda. The Pac-12 is the Pac-12, even if Utah is switched out for Utah State.
UH can employ one of two strategies — slow infiltration or hard push.
UH does not field a team in 12 Pac-12 sports. It could form a team in gymnastics, wrestling or rugby, then compete as a Pac-12 affiliate. A UH rugby team could start with football players Peter Manuma, Steven Fiso, Landon Sims and Logan Taylor. Cal Poly, a member of the Big West, competes in wrestling as a Pac-12 affiliate. Mountain West member San Diego State is a Pac-12 affiliate in men’s soccer and women’s lacrosse. The hope would be affiliations lead to full admission.
UH could also make an all-in drive. But that would mean promising to consolidate its Mountain West and Big West memberships. It also would need substantial financial commitments from boosters, sponsors and lawmakers. It would need to reaffirm Hawaii as a travel destination and gateway to the Asia market. And, most important, it would need somebody in charge to pledge the construction and completion of a new football stadium, with ground-breaking before the start of hurricane season.
Crazy and nuts? Of course. But maybe it’s not a laughable thought.
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