Star-Bulletin Sports

Wednesday, February 17, 1999

WAC deal
not dead yet

Talks still on to host
basketball championship

By Paul Arnett


Bowl Games of Hawaii executive director Lenny Klompus felt like Joe DiMaggio when the Yankee Clipper learned of his death during "Dateline NBC."

"I picked up the morning paper and was shocked to read our deal had collapsed," Klompus said, "when we're basically in the same position we were in when we first announced the possible deal (to the Star-Bulletin) in December. We're still negotiating."

WAC commissioner Karl Benson backed that sentiment last night by saying, "The reports that our dealings have collapsed with Bowl Games of Hawaii concerning the Oahu Bowl and possibly hosting the WAC basketball tournament are simply not true.

"Yes, it's possible we won't have our WAC football champion be tied to the Aloha or Oahu bowls this year. ... But it doesn't mean the basketball deal will necessarily fall through with it."

Benson confirmed that ESPN is playing hardball. The television network wants the Oahu Bowl to have an at-large selection play the Pac-10's representative.

But Klompus -- who is going to New York this weekend to talk with ESPN officials -- put it this way: "We have invited ESPN to dinner. They aren't going to tell us what we can serve."

Benson believes that ESPN wants to have a back-up plan in place should the Mountain West Conference not have a bowl to showcase its football champion.

ESPN recently struck a deal to televise Mountain West football and basketball. At this point, the league has a tie to the Holiday Bowl.

The catch is, its football champion has to have a higher ranking than the third pick from the Big 12 to be eligible to play in the game.

"And how many times is that going to happen?" Benson said.

Klompus said he would never sign a long-term deal with the Mountain West Conference anyway.

"That's not going to happen," he said. "And if ESPN tries to push it, we just won't have an Oahu Bowl."

Klompus went on to say that regardless of how the situation plays out, Hawaii would always have the opportunity to play in the Oahu Bowl, should it qualify.

"We're still interested in the whole enchilada. We want the WAC champion to have a place to play its game and we want to do the basketball tournament. It's not over by any means. And if we can't get a TV deal for the basketball tournament with (a network), we'll work out something where we can sell it to independent television stations in the cities of the WAC teams."

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