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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, June 19, 2001

UH holds up WAC-ESPN deal

By Ferd Lewis and Stephen Tsai
Advertiser Staff Writers

The University of Hawai'i's reluctance to move a marquee home football game, an Oct. 27 date with Fresno State, to Friday afternoon is one of the roadblocks to completing ESPN's multi-million dollar television contract with the Western Athletic Conference.

People familiar with the proposed deal say the network wants to show the game at 4 p.m. Hawai'i time on Oct. 26, but UH has balked at switching it from the scheduled 6:05 p.m. Saturday starting time.

ESPN's college football spokesman was not immediately available for comment.

"I don't want to move it," UH coach June Jones said. "I don't want our fans to deal with (rush-hour) traffic and I don't want to deal with playing on a Friday. And we don't get any more money for moving the game."

Agreement in principle was reached on the overall television deal for football and men's basketball last month, but the status of the UH-Fresno State game has been one of the stumbling blocks to completing it.

The game against preseason conference favorite Fresno State is the most attractive of the Warriors' five WAC home games and has the potential to be UH's biggest money-maker this season. That's why school officials are reluctant to move it to Friday afternoon, fearing the time slot and heavy Halawa traffic would severely impact the box office appeal.

"Friday afternoon is not really conducive to a game of this magnitude," said UH athletic director Hugh Yoshida.

Said Jones: "We would lose fans, and our people would be upset with the traffic. Plus, we're on the road (in Tulsa, Okla.) the week before, and it would make it a shorter week (of preparation)."

Yoshida said based upon history of the UH-Fresno State series and preseason predictions, it could be a meaningful game in the WAC race and an attractive one for fans.

"Based upon our season-ticket sales and walk-up expectations, it should be huge for us," he said.

The last time Fresno State played at Aloha Stadium, UH won 31-24 in double-overtime and a share of the 1999 WAC Championship.

UH officials say there is potential to net $600,000-$650,000 from the game, and switching dates could reduce that by $200,000-$250,000 or more. Yoshida said ESPN has not offered to make up the difference.

"According to our projections, we stand to lose 10,000-15,000 in attendance if the game is moved to a Friday afternoon," said Jim Donovan, UH associate athletic director. "We would definitely take a substantial hit at the gate."

Fresno State spokesman Steve Weakland said, "We totally understand Hawai'i's situation; we would be in the same boat if it was an afternoon home game for us."

The WAC's two-year TV deal with Fox Sports expired in March. WAC presidents and athletic directors have accepted ESPN's offer in principle for football and men's basketball.

ESPN is also believed to be considering televising UH's home games against Air Force on Nov. 24 and Brigham Young on Dec. 1, although not as Friday games.

Fresno State officials said ESPN is looking at the possibility of doing as many as four Bulldog games, including the UH contest. The Bulldogs' games with Oregon State, Wisconsin and Colorado State are also said to be under consideration.