UH looking
for best situation

The Mountain West lifts
a moratorium on expansion as
Hawaii works for a stronger WAC

Hawaii-Manoa chancellor Peter Englert emerged from yesterday's Western Athletic Conference board meetings with a newfound understanding of the league in which his school's athletic teams play (for now) -- and of his role on the board in a tumultuous time for all involved with college sports.

But Englert made no promises when asked how long UH might remain in the conference it has been a part of since 1979.

"The last two days were very good for me. I got a very good overview of the WAC," Englert said by phone yesterday after the meetings in Half Moon Bay, Calif.

One of the main topics was league membership, and how the conference might benefit by a national shakeout caused by the probable movement of Miami, Syracuse and Boston College from the Big East to the Atlantic Coast Conference.

"We are a member of the Western Athletic Conference, so it's in our best interest to make sure the WAC is strong," Englert said. "We have to grow and be strong and make sure we make use of our opportunities. And, in a fiduciary sense, as a member of the board, it is my responsibility."

Does that mean UH is in the WAC for the long haul? Not necessarily, Englert answered.

"We certainly have to get our act together and be ready rather than sit there and be passive and let things happen to us," he said. "We have to be pro-active. At UH we have to be ready when and if things start happening and there is a changing of chairs."

Hawaii getting a seat in the Mountain West Conference became more of a possibility when the MWC -- also meeting yesterday, down the coast in Carlsbad, Calif. -- finally took a tangible step toward expansion.

The MWC voted unanimously to lift a membership moratorium that was to last until 2005. The conference is now expected to begin looking seriously at inviting from one to four schools to join the eight-team conference; the candidates include WAC members Boise State, Fresno State, Hawaii and Nevada. The Mountain West -- which broke away from a 16-team WAC five years ago -- will bide its time and any invitations are not expected to be extended until a year of research is complete, according to an announcement by the league.

UH athletic director Herman Frazier addressed the possibility of moving to the Mountain West while answering questions from reporters on a KKEA-1420 radio show last night. He was asked how he would present UH as a viable candidate if courted by the MWC.

"We'd walk in with a WAC championship softball team, perennial volleyball powers for both men and women, successful basketball teams and a football team that has an average of three games on national TV every year," Frazier said. "I'm sure I forgot some (good) teams."

Frazier said he thinks the Mountain West should move to expand quickly.

"If I'm the Mountain West I wouldn't wait for the dominoes to fall. I'd be out trying to get four teams anyway. If you have 12 teams you can have a championship football game and divisions," he said. "I see nothing but upside."

WAC commissioner Karl Benson said his league is also exploring expansion.

"(The MWC vote) doesn't surprise me," Benson said.

"Coming out of our board meetings the WAC is also very interested in looking at our membership and if there are opportunities to improve the WAC," Benson added. "It's all still speculation. The fallout and dominoes might still not occur. If not, it doesn't mean we wouldn't look at expanding our membership. We would view expansion regardless of what was happening in the ACC and the Big East. But that heightens the possible inventory of available teams."

Houston, Tulane, Texas Christian and Southern Miss have been reported as teams the WAC might be interested in.

"It depends on who is involved," Frazier said if leaving the WAC for the MWC might be a lateral move. "If the WAC (expands), who will they put on the east side to make it more attractive? One school I think the WAC will concentrate on is TCU."

The biggest news out of the WAC meetings yesterday is the board upheld the six-credit rule that Hawaii had such a hard time dealing with last year. The vote to keep the rule came despite a recommendation from the WAC council (athletic directors, faculty representatives and senior women's administrators) to rescind it.

In essence, the rule requires schools to certify that its athletes in postseason competition passed at least six credits in the just-completed term.

Because the ConAgra Foods Hawaii Bowl was on Christmas, only a few days after the completion of the fall term, UH officials did not certify the football team, citing logistical difficulties. Hawaii was reprimanded by the league and fined $5,000. After an emergency meeting, however, the rule was dropped for the spring semester when it appeared at least one other school might run into the same type of problem.

"The (board) believes it's an important piece of academic reform and one that can be applied and implemented," Benson said. "The board is unanimous in support of the rule. I've been assured all 10 schools are prepared to (follow the rule)."

Englert said if final grades are not available in time to certify players, other means can be used to determine if they have met the requirements.

"Last year we got pinched by that rule, but I feel we made a good decision. I feel very comfortable with that. We are in the same boat as other schools, like Rice," Englert said. "We have a good grasp of each student by working with the professors, and also through our academic center and tutors. We can work with them to verify that they would be eligible."

Frazier said a recent computer upgrade "puts us in a completely different situation than last December," but he is still bothered that the rule affects Hawaii more than other schools.

"I support the rule. But making it (applicable) ... if it's a level playing field," he said. "If you play in a bowl game Dec. 19, you do not have to certify."

Notes: Frazier refused to be pinned down for more information on football coach June Jones' contract, other than he will get a raise, and his salary will be less than the $1 million per year agent Leigh Steinberg originally asked for last year. ... The AD said he has not been contacted by Oklahoma State for permission to speak with UH baseball coach Mike Trapasso about the Cowboys' opening. "I believe he's anchored here, but I would never hold someone back," Frazier said. ... Frazier said he and associate athletic director Tom Sadler are discussing prepaid parking at Aloha Stadium for football games and working with the stadium to resolve customer service issues and "get some relief" from an $800,000 annual rental fee. "We should be sitting down trying to improve that situation all the time," he said. ... The former track and field All-American said a men's track and field program could follow closely on the heels of a cross country team he expects to field in 2004 or 2005. The track and field team could start with the cross country runners and sprinters and weight men from football, Frazier said. ... On nonconference football scheduling that includes Division I-AA teams like Appalachian State and powerhouses like USC and Alabama: "You've got to balance that. That's where June and I are on the same page."


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