Realignapalooza: The Hawaii Situation
The University of Hawaii is potentially looking to drop football because of an annual deficit the Warriors are running as a Mountain West associate member. While I believe this is a plea to get donors and ticket holders to open their wallets a little further, there’s a real enough possibility to take the threat seriously and look at options for the prospective 11 team circuit.
(1) The cheap-’n-easy approach. Both Idaho and New Mexico State are entering two year agreements with the Sun Belt Conference as associate members. Each school is in the footprint and shares common history with schools in the Mountain West. Neither will replace the media market left by the 50th state at 1.4 million potential viewers, but there wouldn’t be a buyout involved as long as each prospective member completed their two years in the Sun Belt, beginning with this upcoming season. While NMSU somewhat fits the footprint of the Sun Belt, Idaho most certainly does not. This would be a dream scenario for Vandal fans if they were invited to replace Hawaii, though many think that they would already been invited if the league wanted the university as a member.
(2) Swinging for the fences. BYU’s independent status and location makes the Cougars of Provo a likely target, while the leadership of the university’s athletic department likes independence over the joining of a non-power 5 league. They have their own television deal and some quirks come with a marriage of BYU and the MWC, mainly a refusal to hold competition on Sundays. This might not be that big of a hassle if the LDS school’s Olympic sports stay in the Big West and Cougar football takes the place of Hawaii’s gridiron team, also an associate member. It’s my opinion that Brigham Young is waiting for a power-5 league to invite them in while claiming how the freedom of independent scheduling brings higher quality opponents than the MWC provides.
(3) Outside the footprint. At this time, it’s my personal belief that UTEP, UTSA, North Texas, and Rice are better off with the regional rivalries they share with each other in CUSA. Houston and SMU are in a league perceived as superior to the Mountain West despite sharing non power league status. Idaho and NMSU, previously mentioned, don’t have the pedigree or curb appeal the MWC is looking for or they’d be members already. A call up from the bloated Big Sky conference is a possibility, but unlikely due to the history of the MWC and level of competition they enjoy. That really only leaves Texas State as an option, and the last round of realignment showed very little interest in the Bobcats by the MWC. I doubt ULL or Arkansas State would have any interest in league opponents in Boise or San Jose.
As schools around the country look to gain ground in the arms race by providing things such as the “full cost of attendance” and lifetime free tuition to their student athletes, the smaller programs will have to make up ground using spit, duct tape, and baling wire. Hawaii gets an exception for an additional opponent each year due to distance already. I believe this is just posturing, almost like trying to haggle a price you won’t get off an item you desperately need. However, if the University of Hawaii decides to go down this path, the suitors for spot #12 aren’t as plentiful as the Mountain West Conference would prefer.