Full-Court Press

By Paul Arnett

Friday, April 30, 1999

Hawaii must
show WAC
it’s an asset

THERE was a time when the athletic directors called all the shots from the back bar of the Hyatt Regency, but unfortunately, those days are gone.

The only power these guys have now is to make recommendations to their respective presidents and hope their fearless leaders have the sense to pull out the rubber stamp.

In 1994, the Western Athletic Conference athletic directors pleaded with the presidents not to expand beyond a dozen teams. But did they listen? No.

The result was the birth of the Mountain West Conference and the death of the WAC as we know it.

The remaining eight athletic directors are in San Diego this weekend to discuss an uncertain future. The most important issues are possible expansion, a pending deal with the Fox Network to televise football and basketball games, and who will host the WAC basketball tournaments over the next several seasons.

Hawaii figures prominently in that major issue. WAC commissioner Karl Benson believes the 50th State has an excellent shot at landing the men's and women's postseason tournaments, but with six sites still in the equation, Hawaii will have to lobby long and hard to get it.

Nobody has lobbied more than Benson to land a network television deal. But when half the teams haven't managed a winning season in football since 1992, that's a difficult sale.

"And those network officials know that," associate commissioner Jeff Hurd said. "It puts pressure on our football and basketball teams to win."

THERE also has been some talk that travel subsidies may come up for review, but that seems unlikely. As one top WAC official put it, "All those stories this week about travel subsidies are much ado about nothing."

Not that some of the remaining eight schools would mind if Hawaii paid part of the freight as it agreed to do when it became a member in 1979.

UH president Ken Mortimer fought hard to have Hawaii treated as an equal during those 1994 meetings. He won a battle concerning travel subsidies but lost the war. The travel costs were a key reason the Mountain West didn't include Hawaii in its plans.

The strange thing is, there seems to have been an about-face by those in the UH administration. Last summer, officials told us the future was in the WAC.

That position wavered somewhat after Mortimer left a president's meeting in Las Vegas in early March. He wanted his fellow presidents to sign a letter guaranteeing it was all for one and one for all.

When that was met with a cold shoulder, Hawaii suddenly started spouting off about other options should the WAC try anything it deemed unfair.

As one Dallas reporter put it, "The feeling here is: Cutting Hawaii loose would save the league a lot of money."

Should the WAC splinter, Hawaii's options are very limited. Officials already have said the Mountain West isn't an option. Mortimer's quote was: "We're through with those teams."

If that's true, then all Hawaii can do is go independent or seek an alliance with the Big West Conference. And those aren't real choices.

What Hawaii needs to do this weekend is prove it's still a viable option for the WAC. Landing the league's basketball tournaments would be an excellent starting place.

Granted, the athletic directors don't wield as powerful a sword, but a recommendation for UH to the presidents could go a long way in determining the school's fate.

Paul Arnett has been covering sports
for the Star-Bulletin since 1990.

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