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Friday, December 10, 2010
Hawaii joins MWC, Big West for 2012

By Andy Katz
ESPN.com

Hawaii is leaving the WAC and has accepted a football-only membership in the Mountain West Conference for the 2012-13 season, according to the MWC.

The Warriors will play the rest of their sports in the Big West Conference. The Warriors women's teams used to compete in the Big West, which currently is an all-California league.

"We're headed in a new direction, and this is a really a historic and great day for the University of Hawaii," athletic director Jim Donovan said. "This is what our coaches and our fans want, and we delivered."

UC Irvine chancellor Michael Drake, chair of the Big West board of directors, said in a statement, "We are excited and pleased with the addition of Hawaii to the Big West Conference. In assessing Hawaii, the Board carefully considered and was impressed by both its legacy of athletic success and its commitment to academic excellence."

Hawaii's move coincides with TCU's departure for the Big East on July 1, 2012. Nevada and Fresno State also will join the Mountain West on July 1, 2012, to give the conference 10 football-playing members and nine overall sport participants.

"The Mountain West Conference is very pleased to gain the University of Hawaii as a football-only member beginning with the 2012 season," MWC commissioner Craig Thompson said Friday.

The 24th-ranked Warriors are the WAC's longest-running member, and shared the conference football title with No. 10 Boise State and Nevada (No. 15 BCS, No. 13 AP) this season.

"Hawaii's outstanding football program and television value fit perfectly with the MWC's strategic initiatives for the future direction of the conference. We look forward to adding the Warriors to the MWC family," Thompson said.

The Warriors' departure is another crushing blow to the WAC. It is left with existing members Louisiana Tech, New Mexico State, San Jose State, Idaho and Utah State. New members Texas State, Texas-San Antonio and Denver, which doesn't play football, join in 2012. The WAC is losing Boise State to the MWC in June.

Donovan expressed concern that the WAC was moving toward the Central Time Zone with the addition of the Texas schools, which would have increased travel costs for Hawaii along with student-athletes spending more time away from school.

He said the TV agreements still need to be worked out. Other financial details weren't disclosed, but Donovan said, "We couldn't afford not to do it."

Montana decided against joining the WAC to stay in the Big Sky Conference, which plays football at the Football Championship Subdivision level. Seattle was next on the WAC's list as a non-football playing member, but losing Hawaii makes the need for another football-playing member key. Utah State initially turned down MWC membership when it assumed BYU would be joining the WAC and Fresno State and Nevada would be staying. But when Fresno State and Nevada decided to leave for the MWC, BYU was left with little choice but to go independent and join the West Coast Conference in all other sports starting on July 1, 2011.

The MWC, meanwhile, will look a lot like the WAC used to in football by 2012-13, with Boise State, Fresno State, Nevada, Hawaii, Colorado State, San Diego State, UNLV, New Mexico, Wyoming and Air Force.

The MWC is losing Utah to the Pac-12 next season and TCU to the Big East in 2012. Both of those schools have played in BCS bowl games. They are replaced by Boise State and Hawaii, which also have had BCS bowl bids.

Hawaii is a natural fit in the Big West with most of its non-revenue sport recruitment coming from the West Coast. Hawaii's women's programs were in the Big West from 1984 to '96 before joining its men's programs in the WAC. The Big West membership includes Cal Poly, UC Davis, Cal State Fullerton, Long Beach State, Cal State Northridge, UC Irvine, UC Riverside, UC Santa Barbara and Pacific, the only private school in the league.

Big West commissioner Dennis Farrell said Hawaii will pay the standard $100,000 equity buy-in. Farrell also said the Big West will move to an 18-game, round-robin schedule in 2012-13 in basketball, up from the 16 games the league currently plays.

The Big West begins a five-year deal in 2011 with the Honda Center in Anaheim, Calif., for its conference tournament.

Farrell said there will be some travel considerations for the mainland schools in going to Hawaii for games.

"There will be a cost sharing that is being worked out," Farrell said.

Andy Katz is a senior college baketball writer for ESPN.com. The Associated Press contributed to this report.