Mountain West reaches out to Hawaii

UNLV’s football relationship with Hawaii could continue for the foreseeable future, as the Warriors are expected to leave the Western Athletic Conference and join the Mountain West.

The Mountain West issued a one-sentence statement Thursday saying the league’s board of directors has authorized commissioner Craig Thompson to begin discussions with Hawaii regarding possible membership in football only. Thompson was not available for further comment.

The Big West Conference also announced Thursday it was lifting the moratorium on membership, which has been in place since 2005, paving the way for Hawaii to move its other sports to that league.

However, multiple reports from Hawaii indicated that the deal was done and the move would take place in time for the 2012 football season.

When officially finalized, Hawaii would join the Mountain West the same year UNR and Fresno State come on board. That would give the MWC 11 football-playing members, one short of the required 12 needed to have a conference championship game.

"It’s either eat or be eaten, and I want to eat," UNLV president Neal Smatresk said Thursday during the UNLV-Air Force football game at Sam Boyd Stadium. "My personal opinion is we need to be aggressive in building a league that’s competitive nationally, and with the number of WAC teams coming over, Hawaii helps us in addressing the league’s BCS status."

The Rebels won’t have to wait for Thompson to cut a deal with Hawaii. They will play the Warriors on Dec. 4 in Honolulu in the second of what is a six-games-in-seven-years agreement. UNLV athletic director Jim Livengood said besides the benefits to his program in maintaining having Hawaii on its football schedule, he endorses the potential move on a couple of levels.

"It’s good for the Mountain West because it has the chance to enhance our television exposure," he said. "We’re trying to make it as strong a package as possible, and by bringing in Hawaii, you’re doing that.

"You’re adding another time zone, which gives you the flexibility to televise games late in the day. They’ve got strong support on the mainland, including here in Las Vegas. And when you consider the cost factor where you’re not having to deal with travel expenses for your other sports to go there, it’s the best of both worlds."

Air Force athletic director Hans Mueh said the fact the MWC’s other sports would not be negatively impacted financially when it comes to travel makes adding Hawaii for football a viable option.

"That’s a big part of it," Mueh said. "But we had a good relationship with Hawaii when we were both in the WAC. I think it’s a good addition."

Tina Kunzer-Murphy, executive director of the MAACO Bowl Las Vegas, also applauded the concept of a Mountain West that included Hawaii football.

"I think it would be a brilliant move," she said. "They’ve got an excellent football program, and they would add another bowl to the league.

"As for our game, I would love to have Hawaii have a chance to play in Las Vegas. I know their fans love coming here, and I think it would be huge."

Smatresk, who worked at Hawaii as the school’s chief academic officer before coming to UNLV, said he had some input into the process that led to Thursday’s announcement from the league. But he didn’t want to take any of the credit.

"I have a lot of friends over there," he said. "But let me leave it at that."

Livengood said given the ever-changing landscape of college athletics and conference realignment, the latest potential move should surprise no one.

"It’s a moving target," Livengood said. "And I don’t think we’re done."

Contact reporter Steve Carp at scarp@reviewjournal.com or at 702-387-2913.

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