New classic brings about big changes to old classic


POSTED: Tuesday, October 14, 2008

The creation of the Diamond Head Classic gives Oahu basketball fans a chance to see big-time college hoops similar to what folks on Maui have been treated to for a quarter-century.

Whether the inaugural event in December 2009 can attract marquee opponents as well as the EA Sports Maui Invitational has through the years remains to be seen. But the University of Hawaii and ESPN Regional Television are hopeful this new men's basketball tournament thrives during the Christmas holiday season.

“;This is one of the biggest announcements to affect the University of Hawaii and our state probably in about 30 years,”; UH athletic director Jim Donovan said.

In a four-year deal, the preliminary rounds of the eight-team tournament—featuring Hawaii as the host at the Stan Sheriff Center—will be played on Dec. 22 and 23, with the championship game on Christmas Day. Of the 12 games in the tournament, at least 10 will be on an ESPN network channel (ESPN, ESPN2, ESPNU).

The tournament will be operated in conjunction with the Sheraton Hawaii Bowl (slated for Dec. 24), which is also owned by ESPN Regional Television.

The parties involved—UH, ESPN, and the Hawaii Tourism Authority—are optimistic the high level of exposure will allow the tournament to eventually rival the Maui Invitational played Thanksgiving week. In addition, HTA is upping its existing agreement with ESPN from $70,000 to $250,000 in return for advertising during the tournament games.

The field for the inaugural Diamond Head Classic isn't expected to be announced until next summer.

“;We've been reaching out to a number of schools, sharing with them over the last couple of days our intent, and the response has been tremendous,”; said Pete Derzis, senior vice president and general manager of ESPN Regional Television. “;Now teams have multiple opportunities to play in ESPN-televised events in Hawaii. Maui's obviously got a tremendous track record and it's probably been the premier event of its kind. We have every expectation that our event's going to rise to the forefront. We think it's a good complement to what's going on in Maui.”;

The long-standing Rainbow Classic has been played either before or after Christmas, and Donovan announced that the Rainbow Warriors' traditional event will be moved to the start of the season in November and reformatted to a round-robin four-team tourney.

Donovan explained that was out of necessity because the operating costs in flying seven teams to the island at UH's expense were becoming increasingly difficult.

“;Last year the Rainbow Classic cost us somewhere, net loss, between $100,000 and $125,000,”; Donovan said. “;The reality of the economics doesn't make sense (to keep it as it was). We'll do the best of both worlds, moving it to the beginning of the season.”;

In the Diamond Head Classic, ESPN is currently responsible for the tourney expenses.

To coach Bob Nash, the new tournament and the exposure it brings boils down to one thing—recruiting.

“;Certainly this is an opportunity that we couldn't pass on,”; Nash said. “;We want to grow our program with visibility for recruiting, and this provides us that opportunity. I embraced it wholeheartedly.”;

As for keeping the strength of the Rainbow Classic field, the coach pointed out that some schools prefer November dates rather than December, which is closer to conference play.

Dave Matlin, executive director of the Hawaii Bowl, will also be in charge of the Diamond Head Classic. He said he and Donovan brainstormed the idea while Donovan was executive director of the bowl game before taking over as UH AD.