Playing Up (And Out Of The WAC)

Bobby Curran
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Friday - October 14, 2005
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Play up! The nifty new slogan is the centerpiece of the Western Athletic Conference marketing plan for 2005/‘06. The idea is for every school in the conference to strive for improvement in all areas - to become Big Time, if you will.

“It’s not just a slogan,” says WAC commissioner Karl Benson. “Everyone in the conference has to address this in everything they do.”

One recent decision, however, contradicts that effort.

Every conference, with two exceptions, went to an instant replay review process for football. The two exceptions are the WAC and the Sun Belt. The Sun Belt is the unchallenged bottom feeder of Division 1-A football. Why would the WAC, in its newfound search for excellence, allow itself to be lumped in with the Sun Belt?

Money, of course.

“The decision was made that, this year, instant replay was cost prohibitive,” says Benson.

Which begs the question: Is the WAC the right fit for the University of Hawaii?

Well, the old WAC certainly did, before the presidents decided to expand the conference to an unwieldy 16 teams, causing the Mountain time zone schools to organize a defection in 1998 that led to the formation of the Mountain West Conference. At least to some extent, the 10-team WAC formed by the remaining eight schools plus Louisiana Tech, Nevada and Boise State minus TCU also worked.

But the solidarity proposal put forth by Benson was rejected by three institutions, including Hawaii, and the Conference USA raid on the Texas schools plus Tulsa eviscerated the conference and forced the WAC to reach into the Sun Belt for Idaho, Utah State and New Mexico State. It is only fair to note that Benson also recommended against the expansion to 16. The commissioner was right both times, but couldn’t sell his vision to the presidents.

So where does this leave the University of Hawaii?

The Mountain West seems disinclined to expand further, and even if it did, Fresno State or Boise State would have at least as strong a case as Hawaii to be selected. Of course, the ideal conference for Hawaii to be in would be the Pac 10. Whenever I have broached that possibility to anyone associated with the PAC 10, I get anything ranging from a smirk to outright hilarity to that sympathetic look reserved for the slow kid in school destined to repeat the grade.

Yet one suggestion we heard a decade ago could possibly change all that. With American sports television nearing the saturation point, the university that opened the door to the Asian TV market would have to be taken seriously. Imagine the college equivalent of Ichiro Suzuki or Hideki Matsui enjoying huge success in a Hawaii football, basketball or baseball uniform. Imagine a couple on each of those teams, and throw in volleyball for good measure. Imagine that this catches on in Japan at even a fraction of the interest level in Ichiro. Think the PAC-10 would be smirking then?

Despite recruiting forays into Asia - in particular Japan - no future college stars have arrived yet in Manoa. But the search goes on, and hope is alive. In the meantime, Hawaii teams will continue to visit places like Moscow, Idaho and Las Cruces, N.M.

Play up, indeed.

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