Full Court Press


Monday, October 8, 2001

UH’s comeback victory
helps, but how much?

THE trip back from Texas would have been much longer for June Jones had Hawaii not rallied for a victory over winless SMU this past weekend.

It rivals the one over Boise State in 1999 that proved the Warriors were worthy of Division I status. They went on to finish 9-4 that season and take a program, temporarily at least, off the endangered list.

Jones' remarkable first campaign as a collegiate head coach, coupled with his near-fatal car accident last February, allowed him to endure this recent skid with very little criticism. But the fact Hawaii is only 5-11 since knocking off Oregon State in the Oahu Bowl is cause for concern.

Despite the greatest turnaround in NCAA history two years ago, Hawaii still faces an uncertain future. The Western Athletic Conference only has two bowl tie-ins, which isn't good considering how many postseason events dot the collegiate landscape.

Hawaii continues to struggle to balance the books, often using creative math to claim its still running in the black. Football season-ticket sales remain flat, in part because of an unattractive schedule.

The first game at Aloha Stadium against Rice drew another small crowd and this Saturday's meeting with Texas-El Paso probably won't generate much more. New parking rules at Aloha Stadium produced a smooth traffic flow, but angered tailgaters because they weren't allowed to move around the parking lot as freely as in the past.

For many reasons, attendance is down nearly 10,000 a game from a decade ago. UH athletic department officials give a variety of excuses for this steady erosion, but it basically comes down to winning consistently against quality competition.

Montana doesn't really count. Neither does SMU. The Mustangs are close to firing their head coach after several so-so seasons. Their fans have never accepted the move from the powerful Southwest Conference to the WAC, and it's reflected in the small crowds that come to see the games.

Hawaii could learn a lot from SMU's demise. Since the split of the WAC, the best football programs are among the eight schools in the Mountain West.

Granted, Hawaii has tried to schedule many of these teams to give its fans some name recognition, but there are still too many teams like Miami of Ohio and Eastern Illinois to justify paying for the season-ticket package.

JONES TOLD reporters after Saturday's OT win over SMU that Hawaii is still in the bowl picture. That may be true in theory, but reality provides a different view. If Fresno State should run the table and land a BCS bid, it gives the other WAC teams hope to play in either the Silicon Valley Classic in San Jose, Calif., or the Humanitarian Bowl in Boise, Idaho.

But it also means Hawaii will have at least three league losses because the Bulldogs need to win here the last weekend in October to have any shot at playing with the big boys on New Year's Day.

Ever the optimist, Jones believes playing the final six games at home give the Warriors a shot at the postseason. That may be, but if Hawaii is having trouble with Nevada and SMU, it stands to reason the Warriors will struggle vs. a Fresno State or BYU and keep the program at least another year removed from the success it so desperately needs.

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