Star-Bulletin Sports



Loose talk of move
is news to UH

High-ranking Hawaii officials say
there isn't a plan for the school
to leave the WAC and join the MWC

By Dave Reardon

If Hawaii is preparing to bolt the Western Athletic Conference for the Mountain West, UH athletic department officials say it's news to them. Also, a right-hand person to UH president Evan Dobelle said yesterday he was unaware of any immediate plans to change affiliation.

Still, speculation continues that the Mountain West -- comprised of schools that used to be in the WAC but broke away to form their own conference in 1999 -- will lift a moratorium on expansion and invite Hawaii and Fresno State, two schools it left behind. The Mountain West presidents and athletic directors meet next month and will reportedly address the issue.

"They may invite us to join," UH vice president for external affairs Paul Costello said. "But we've not been asked that yet and have no point of view."

UH athletic director Hugh Yoshida said if the Mountain West invites Hawaii, UH must inform the rest of the WAC by Sept. 1 that it is leaving the conference, and it would be official June 30, 2003.

But Yoshida said he doesn't see any indication of that happening.

"Nothing has changed as far as I know," he said. "Of course, anything is possible. But the only thing we look at is doing the best we can from a competitive standpoint. The WAC's been good to us. We had a great year this year. The only thing we're looking at is trying to improve our programs."

Associate athletic director Jim Donovan said "a lot has to happen" for UH to join the Mountain West.

"The first thing is they have to lift the expansion moratorium. Then we have to be invited. Then Evan has to decide that that's in our best interest," Donovan said. "Competitively speaking, the WAC had a good year and we're in the WAC until further notice."

While the WAC and Mountain West are comparable in many sports -- and the WAC better in some -- the Mountain West probably has a slight edge in football, at least as perceived by the nation. Although Hawaii beat both Air Force and nationally ranked Brigham Young last year, and Fresno State beat three big-name schools from other conferences, the Mountain West has a better ESPN-TV deal than the WAC.

Dobelle met with coaches from nearly every UH sport in December, partly to discuss conference affiliation; the group came to no consensus about wanting to leave the WAC.

There is also the issue of travel subsidies, which UH might have to pay visiting teams as part of a Mountain West entrance.

Also, ESPN was granted certification last month for a Hawaii Bowl to be played Dec. 25 at Aloha Stadium. Teams from the WAC (UH, if bowl-eligible the first two years of the four-year deal) and Conference USA are to meet.

If Hawaii left the WAC what would happen to the Hawaii Bowl?

"We have to cross that if we get to it," Donovan said.

In related news, WAC commissioner Karl Benson said yesterday he was misquoted in the Fresno Bee about applying for the UH athletic director job. Yoshida is retiring and a search is on for his replacement.

"I am not a candidate. I have not applied for the job," Benson said. "The information reported in the Fresno Bee is incorrect."

When asked on previous occasions, Benson would neither confirm nor deny interest in the position.

More than 50 people have expressed written interest in the post, but advertising and a national search is only now getting under way. No official applications have been received, and screening and interviews begin next month.

UH Athletics

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