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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, February 11, 2010

Hawaii 2,500-mile long shot for Pac-10

By Ferd Lewis

The last time the Pac-10 Conference threw open its doors to expansion, the University of Hawai'i was one of the grand prize winners.

The next time the Pac-10 expands, the Rainbows/Rainbow Wahine/Warriors/Rainbow Warriors might not be so fortunate.

Such is the Pac-10's power in the West that when it moves, the landscape rumbles. Witness when the then-Pac-8 rustled Arizona and Arizona State away from the Western Athletic Conference in 1978, it opened the way for the WAC to add San Diego State and Hawai'i.

But as the Pac-10 ponders what would be its first expansion in 32 years, UH is not so ideally positioned to take advantage of realignment. Unfortunately for UH, between soaring travel costs, a mounting deficit and its TV market size, there have been few worse times to be 2,500 miles off the beaten major college path.

The seemingly smooth transformation from independent to first-time conference member actually resulted from 16 years of painstaking spade work by the prescient Gov. John A. Burns to find a home for UH. Burns had not only lobbied Western governors on UH's behalf for years, but was a driving force behind the opening of Aloha Stadium three years earlier as well as creating a booster organization (Ahahui Koa Anuenue) to help fund growth.

Fast-forward to the present and the late Gov. Burns would not recognize today's WAC or UH's predicament.

Indeed, the last time there was significant movement, UH was caught embarrassingly unaware. Then-athletic director Herman Frazier said, "I don't think (Texas-El Paso) is going anywhere." Two weeks later, UTEP bolted to Conference USA. Idaho and New Mexico State were hurriedly added to the WAC.

Now, on the heels of the Big Ten considering expansion, the Pac-10 says it also is "very seriously" looking at the possibility. The Pac-10 TV deal with Fox and ABC/ESPN expires after the 2011-12 school year so expansion, if it is to come, would bring maximum financial reward.

There is little likelihood the Pac-10 will pluck anybody from the WAC. But should the Pac-10 raid the Big 12 (Colorado) or Mountain West (Utah), then the WAC is likely to feel the after shocks, again.

When UH was voted into the WAC, it was in part because an NCAA exemption permitted visitors an extra game and UH agreed to help underwrite travel costs. These days, everybody is permitted a 12th football game. And, with a net accumulated deficit pushing an estimated $6 million, UH is struggling to pay its own airfare, much less fund subsidies.

In a new round of realignment, UH is more likely to be a bystander than a participant.