The Best That Could’ve Happened

Excuse UH fans for walking around in a stupor the past few days. Ever since Colorado State, Air Force, Brigham Young, Utah, New Mexico, Nevada-Las Vegas, San Diego State and Wyoming split from the Western Athletic Conference – following a clandestine meeting at Denver International Airport in 1998 – Hawaii fans have bristled at their former foes to the point of loathing and outright contempt.

Things just got worse after the WAC’s biggest football cashbox, Boise State, jumped ship, and when Nevada and Fresno State bolted most recently, well, things just got medieval to the point where even players and coaches began spitting venom.

After victories over the Wolfpac and Bulldogs, head coach Greg McMackin and his players, angered over the feeling that they were once again being treated as less than worthy for Mountain West Conference inclusion, made it clear the goal was to send their soon-to-be ex-conference mates off with a loss. They did just that, with their heads held a little higher knowing their message of defiance had been sent. Now things are just weird. It’s like Mufi Hannemann suddenly giving Neil Abercrombie a brohug. Yes, it makes political sense but it just seems weird.

The University of Hawaii, twice spurned, is to be the newest football-only member of the MWC. After all the posturing and angry comments, UH is going back to, as KHON’s Kanoa Leahey said during a recent broadcast, “that significant other who cheated on you.”

And what do you do about Boise? Talk about a dysfunctional relationship. In a matter of a year it has gone from admired conference member to hated deserter. Is the love affair suddenly rekindled? Will UH show up with an 8-carat purple diamond ring on its suddenly supporting finger, or does absolution not occur until 2012, when UH will start to once again travel to Idaho’s most-famous artificial lake? If you feel your head doing a Linda Blair 360, hey, join the club.

Just as with athletes or actors who suddenly find their troubled marriages stronger with a reworking of their prenuptial agreements, this move had nothing to do with admiration and everything to do with financial maturation.

Still, fans are naturally struggling with the news. Everyone agrees that getting out of the weakened and collapsing WAC is the smart thing to do, but even with the promise of a firmer financial future the hurt is hard to forget. To quote an unnamed Facebook friend, “I do admit to feeling sick that we’re associating ourselves with these defectors. I absolutely despised the Mountain West and still do.”

But even those for whom the pain of rejection is still all too fresh, it is a move that had to be made. Every year it has become harder for the administration to spin the tale of WAC viability. The conference that UH called home for 32 years has been slowly stripped of its assets and now stands on the brink of foreclosure. Forget the hurt and embrace the change.

This is the best thing that could have happened to UH. With the addition of Boise, Nevada, Fresno and Hawaii, the MWC now has the strength to petition for BCS inclusion, to press ESPN for a more equitable TV deal and cash in on a conference championship game. After months of over-cast skies, Hawaii’s athletic future suddenly seems bright, and athletics director Jim Donovan can finally answer the critics who said he was doing little more than just fiddling while Manoa burned.

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