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UH to Mountain West: Man, that happened fast

November 19, 2010 - Robert Collias
In a one-on-one interview with me on Thursday, University of Hawaii Athletic Director Jim Donovan said that the school would be making a decision on which direction its athletic department was headed in "mid spring."

Less than four hours later, a press conference had been scheduled to announce a "handshake deal" that Hawaii is headed for the Mountain West Conference for football (Big West for everything else) and its old traditional foes like BYU (which is actually leaving the MWC soon), San Diego State, Air Force, Colorado State, TCU (also leaving), Boise State (headed to the MWC soon), Fresno State (ditto BSU) and Nevada (ditto II), etc. In other words, UH is leaving the current whacked (and getting wackier) WAC to go back to the WAC we once knew and grew up with.

How did this go down? Sources tell me that it came, literally, almost out of nowhere. Donovan was on Maui with men's basketball coach Gib Arnold to promote UH's basketball game on Dec. 17 against Chicago State at the Lahaina Civic Center.

While at the airport on their way back to Oahu, Donovan, Arnold and Maui state senator Shan Tsutsui received a phone call from UH president M.R.C. Greenwood saying, basically, "get back here right now." The MWC offer had come much earlier than expected or hoped.

A WAC that had just replaced Nevada, Boise State and Fresno State with Texas State, Texas-San Antonio and Denver (nonfootball) and UH forced to be a part of it is now just a bad dream.

Highlights from my interview with Donovan, his quotes (a lot of which are, literally, yesterday's news):

"We know what our options are. Obviously the best option would be to get into the Pac-10, Pac-12, but they are not looking to expand past 12 right now. For whatever reason, they are not really looking out here towards the Pacific. So, the next scenarios after that would be to keep all of our sports, including football, in the WAC. That, you know, honestly is sort of tough for us because of the fact that it is geocentrically moving more and more toward the Midwest and away from us.

"Maybe there is some hybrid thing out there for us where our football team is in the WAC and the rest of our sports go to the Big West. Maybe our football program can get in the Mountain West and the rest of our sports go to the Big West. I think probably, realistically, our last option would be to go independent in football and move the rest of the sport over to the Big West.

"The reason for that is — not that I think we can't do it, I think we can — but it will be expensive and for the months of October and most of November it will be difficult to get home games. It is not impossible, difficult. We have talked with Army, Navy, Notre Dame, BYU, now who is an independent, to maybe fill some games in that six- or seven-week window, but a lot of other schools are in conference play. They won't want to come over here and play us and then go back and the next Saturday play a conference game. So (independence) is an option — it is not our preferred option — but we will do it if we have to."

With the addition of championship games in the Pac-12 and Big Ten, every BCS conference with the exception of the Big 12 will have title games on the first Saturday of December. Donovan said that has taken the option of late-season, big-name opponents away from UH football.

"We used to be able to play some really good teams on the first weekend of December and now the Pac-10 is going to 12, so they will have a championship game; the Mountain West is expected to go 12, so they will have a championship game; the only conference of name that won't have a championship game and probably be available will be the Big 12, which is now down to 10, so they are not going to have a championship game. So, there will be a few schools available out there that first week of December, but if we can't make an attractive offer to a current Big 12 school we will be lucky to get anybody. One school that is very interested in playing us on that first Saturday in December on an annual basis is BYU, so that would be a nice finish some years."

On travel subsidies, Donovan winced, "I think it is going to be a given no matter what we do."

Obviously, things changed for the better for UH in basically an instant on Thursday afternoon. In my mind, if indeed the "handshake agreement" becomes full reality, it will go down as an historic date for UH sports.

I will have more from my conversation with Donovan, from delving into the reality of travel subsidies, to the UH AD's current $10 million deficit, to pay-per-view sports and the long-term viability of that, in a story in the near future.


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