Hawaii is in talks with the Mountain West about joining the league for football only, dealing another potential blow to the floundering WAC.
School president M.R.C. Greenwood said late Thursday night at a news conference in Honolulu she had already been in discussions with Mountain West commissioner Craig Thompson.
"We have a handshake but we have yet to agree on the details," Greenwood said. "The people of the state of Hawaii should be very positive about this and convinced that we have a bright future."
If the move becomes final, the Mountain West will have taken the top four programs in the WAC -- Boise State is joining in 2011, and Nevada and Fresno State are joining in 2012. After Nevada and Fresno State decided to leave the WAC earlier this year, Hawaii started seriously looking at its options, including going independent.
The new additions to the WAC to replace Nevada and Fresno State -- UT-San Antonio and Texas State -- do not fit in the Hawaii geographic footprint and would make travel costs higher. Without its top four schools, the WAC would be left with current members Louisiana Tech, Utah State, San Jose State, New Mexico State and Idaho, teams with a combined 15 wins this season. The two new members are not on the FBS level yet.
Remember, Utah State turned down a chance to join the Mountain West before Fresno State and Nevada decided to join, believing in the strength of the $5 million buyout the WAC agreed to when the league was in talks about adding BYU in all sports but football. Fresno State and Nevada decided to leave anyway, setting off a messy divorce from the WAC. BYU is going independent and joining the West Coast Conference for its other sports.
As for the Mountain West, the league would stand at 11 football-playing members should the Warriors join. But there could be various reasons for this move. The first would be as a pre-emptive measure should TCU leave to join the Big East. The Horned Frogs have been mentioned as a potential member of that league, but there are questions about whether they would join as a football-only playing member. The Big East has said it is looking at expanding.
If TCU decides to stay, then adding Hawaii means strengthening the league. It also could mean adding one more member so the league can get to 12 teams and add a conference title game. Hawaii is one of four non-AQ schools that has made a BCS bowl game. When Utah leaves for the Pac-12, the Mountain West would have those three other schools in its grasp (TCU and Boise State being the others) should TCU decide to stay.
Hawaii would have its other sports play in the Big West. The Warriors have been members of the WAC for 32 years, but have been eyeing the Mountain West for years.
"The important thing is we're going to the dance," said athletic director Jim Donovan, according to the Honolulu Star-Advertiser. "That's always been the most important thing in my life. I'm a former offensive lineman, and no matter what it takes, we try to get the job done. We don't expect a lot of fanfare. We just want to get the job done."