Saturday, November 20, 1999

R A I N B O W _ F O O T B A L L

UH Rainbow Football

success has been
good for WAC

The UH football team might
find out today which bowl game
it will be playing in

By Paul Arnett


The first month of the season almost drove Karl Benson into the garage in search of a "For Sale'' sign.

Not only was the Western Athletic Conference commissioner feeling the aftershock of the split with the Mountain West schools, his own league opened up the 1999 football season like a junior high school band session on the first day of school.

Soon after, the longstanding rumors that Texas Christian and Southern Methodist were being openly courted by Conference USA came true. The Horned Frogs took the leap of faith, while the Mustangs stayed in the corral.



Bullet When: 6:05 p.m. today
Bullet Where: Aloha Stadium
Bullet TV: 9 p.m. on KFVE (delay)
Bullet Radio: Live on KCCN-AM (1420)
Bullet RealAudio: Click here
Bullet Records: UH is 7-3. Navy is 4-6.
Bullet Odds: Navy by 3

The quick additions of Boise State and Louisiana Tech were designed to cushion the blow of TCU's departure, but the national hit was enormous. You heard the talk. Bad league gets worse. A conference no one wants to call home. Big West. Big deal.

But just when it appeared the league might take it on the chin once again, along came June Jones. It has been a long time since anyone considered Hawaii as a possible savior of anything.

Granted, the accomplishments of the men's and women's volleyball teams have been duly noted. But nobody paid anybody $600 million for next month's Final Four in women's volleyball.

The real deal in economic terms is football and men's basketball. If you don't produce winning, entertaining teams in these two sports, Division I universities can forget about it.

After finishing 0-12 in football and 6-20 in men's basketball last year, the Rainbows were dangerously close to be shown the nearest exit. Even in this brightest of moments, Hawaii is still in day-to-day recovery.

But thanks to a rejuvenated football team that has attracted the right kind of attention from newspapers and camera crews nationwide, the Rainbows are rapidly becoming the feel-good story of the year.

"There's really no way you can measure what Hawaii has done to help our league,'' Benson said yesterday. "The fact that the Mobile Bowl was seriously considering Hawaii says a lot for what June Jones has done here.''

The Rainbows will likely know which bowl they will play in before tonight's nonconference game with the Naval Academy at Aloha Stadium. Benson is in town to not only present the WAC championship trophy for football, but to congratulate the women's volleyball team on its league title. The Wahine have an opportunity to win the first national championship for the conference in its current form.

"What Hawaii has done for volleyball here is great,'' Benson said. "Next month's Final Four here will be a major event for our conference where we will hopefully showcase a great Hawaii women's team.''

The football team is hoping it will be able to showcase itself on Christmas Day. Benson cleared one hurdle for Bowl Games Hawaii by getting the Mobile (Ala.) Bowl to agree not to select the Rainbows as its WAC team.

The WAC and the Mobile Bowl are in a one-year agreement that pits WAC No. 2 against a team from Conference USA. Bowl officials from Mobile reportedly were taking a hard look at the Rainbows.

Had they finished 9-3 with a Top-25 position a possibility and Jones maybe being coach of the year, Mobile was willing to take a shot. It's still possible Hawaii could wind up in Las Vegas, but Fresno State would have to lose for that to happen.

"Obviously, we're hoping Fresno State wins,'' Bowl Games Hawaii chief executive officer Lenny Klompus said. "It would be best for everybody for TCU to go to Mobile, Fresno to Las Vegas and Hawaii to here. It just makes sense.''

If that indeed falls into place, Benson will be a happy man right up until the kickoff for those three games. It's one thing to get a trio of teams into bowls. Quite another to perform well in them.

Behind the scenes, ESPN would probably prefer to see Hawaii go to the mainland. That would clear the way for a possible Conference USA team (Louisville) or even a Mountain West team (Air Force) to play here on Christmas Day. Of all of ESPN's games, the Oahu Bowl is near the top of the list because of the national exposure it brings. ESPN2 is broadcasting the bowls in Las Vegas and Mobile.

"It would mean a great deal to this program to play here,'' UH athletic director Hugh Yoshida said. "For our fans and in terms of national exposure, you can't beat playing on Christmas Day.''

Even now, Benson has trouble believing what Hawaii has done to help the league's long-term outlook. As he put it, "I don't think anybody thought Hawaii would be in a bowl game and be such a great national story. It's a good thing all the way around.''
Ka Leo O Hawaii

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