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Star-Bulletin Sports

Wednesday, February 23, 2000

R A I N B O W _ S P O R T S

Hawaii being
touted as marquee
WAC school

Officials say UH sports programs
could solve the league's
identity crisis

By Paul Arnett


Grant Teaff recently summed up what was wrong with the Western Athletic Conference in one succinct sentence:

"The league needs a bell cow."

Officials of the conference that has undergone more face lifts than an aging movie star won't deny that the reasoning of the executive director of the American Football Coaches Association is sound. It's just a matter of finding a team capable of planting a flag on the national scene equal to what BYU did for the old WAC and is now doing for the fledgling Mountain West Conference.

"Maybe Hawaii could be that bell cow for us," WAC associate commissioner Jeff Hurd said yesterday. "There aren't many teams in our league that can schedule the top players in Division I like Hawaii can in football. Attracting home games with the likes of Michigan, Texas and Wisconsin is a real bonus for our conference."

The Hawaii program has a ways to go before drawing even with the likes of BYU. But the recent hiring of June Jones and the NCAA record-setting turnaround last fall that generated national stories in the Los Angeles Times, the New York Times and the Washington Post reflect the potential of this program in dealing with the conference's identity crisis.

"Having two national names like BYU and Air Force have definitely helped the Mountain West Conference establish itself in football," Hurd said. "We feel like we helped ourselves by being in three bowl games last year.

"We won two of them and really could have won all three. Our television ratings for those games were good, but the disappointing thing for us was the attendance at the three bowl games (Oahu, Mobile and Las Vegas). We didn't bring the number of fans we needed to and that's an area we have to address."

Bowl Games Hawaii is solidifying its relationship with the WAC through the Rainbows' football program. UH athletic director Hugh Yoshida met with Lenny Klompus for a third time yesterday to discuss what role the Christmas Day games would have with the Rainbows in the future.

"Quite frankly, we've seen the potential Hawaii could have on the national scene for years," Klompus said. "Not only will we be there for the university every year, but the national networks have given us a thumbs-up to develop the relationship even more.

"As our Jeep sponsor likes to say, the state of Hawaii is sexy. ABC-TV and ESPN were very pleased with the ratings of the Hawaii-Oregon State game. We had to go to war with network officials to get this game lined up, but they now see the potential of having Hawaii as an at-large selection."

Klompus attended the recent bowl meetings in Phoenix to help the WAC strengthen its cause on the national scene. The WAC met with nine bowl representatives in an attempt to get as many as three bowl tie-ins next year.

"Our problem right now is not having different bowls interested in our champion," Hurd said. "It's having a bowl taking a second or third team because they're probably going to be available anyway."

This is where Hawaii and the Christmas Day bowls step in. The WAC would like a similar arrangement set up in other WAC cities that have bowl games, namely the Silicon Valley Football Classic in San Jose, Calif., and the Sun Bowl in El Paso, Texas.

The Fox Network recently signed a five-year deal to televise the Silicon Valley Football Classic that will hold its inaugural game on Dec. 31 at San Jose State. A team from the WAC will play an at-large opponent.

"The inclusion of Fox Sports as the television partner for the Silicon Valley Football Classic is a critical and huge step forward for securing the long-term success of the game," WAC commissioner Karl Benson said. "Fox has been a valuable partner for WAC football and the national exposure it now will provide ensures instant credibility for the new bowl game and its sponsors."

Fox is finishing the first season of a two-year deal with the WAC. The current contract has a three-year option clause to televise football and men's basketball on a regional and national basis.

"The fact Fox was willing to sign a five-year contract to televise the Silicon bowl game says a lot about our potential long-term relationship," Hurd said. "They'll review the ratings after the year is done and we'll see where that takes us in the coming season.

"Hawaii's game with Texas will certainly be one Fox will consider televising and maybe the game with Wisconsin at the end of the year. Both are very attractive."

Being an attractive commodity is a long-range goal for the WAC. The league recently designed a new logo, one Benson believes will help in merchandising.

"As the WAC settles into its new era, it is important to portray a positive, exciting look," Benson said. "This new logo will give fans and merchandisers alike an alternative to the well-known traditional WAC logo."

Still, there are areas of concern as the league approaches the new millennium. Travel costs are a major area of contention. And possible departures of Southern Methodist and Fresno State still give league officials pause.

"I think if we can make it through this year without any major problems, it will go a long way in solidifying our league," Hurd said. "We're going to hold the WAC media day in football in San Jose the last week in July to help promote the new bowl game.

"We're losing TCU after next year, but we're bringing in the University of Nevada to help ease that transition.

"It's been a very difficult 18 months, but the success of Hawaii in football and the positive exposure we got from ESPN from that game, is the kind of thing we need to help make our league more attractive."

UH Athletics
Ka Leo O Hawaii

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