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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Wednesday, June 20, 2001

WAC wants UH to move football game to Friday afternoon

Stephen Tsai
Advertiser Staff Writer

Western Athletic Conference officials and athletic directors are pressuring the University of Hawai'i to move its football game against Fresno State from Saturday night, Oct. 27, to Friday afternoon, Oct. 26, to accommodate the ESPN cable television network.

During a somewhat testy one-hour teleconference yesterday, UH officials were strongly encouraged to make the sacrifice and move what could be a lucrative Saturday night home game to a less desirable day and time slot.

WAC commissioner Karl Benson said he "can't confirm nor deny" that the date switch is one of the conditions to completing a multi-million-dollar television contract between the league and ESPN. An agreement in principle was reached last month, although no documents have been signed.

But Benson said, "ESPN looks at the University of Hawai'i as a valuable piece of the WAC, and with that comes the expectation that Hawai'i is going to provide some games."

UH athletic director Hugh Yoshida declined to comment yesterday, although he did not back away from an earlier statement that he would be reluctant to move the game to a Friday afternoon because it would hurt attendance and inconvenience UH fans.

"We have no interest in playing on a Friday," said UH coach June Jones, noting the Warriors play on the road the previous Saturday, leaving what he feels is an inadequate amount of time to prepare for Fresno State.

The game is proposed as part of ESPN's new Friday night series.

Benson said ESPN does not have a "Saturday window" for the WAC, whose exclusive national television deal with Fox Sports expired in March.

"Saturday is not an option," Benson said.

He also said the game needs to start no later than 4 p.m. Hawai'i time — 10 p.m. on the East Coast — to reach a larger national audience.

"The Mainland audience is a prime-time audience, not a midnight Mainland audience," Benson said.

Even with a 7 p.m. kickoff on Friday, Jones said, "It would cost us too much money."

UH officials say there is a potential to net up to $650,000 for a Saturday night game against the Warriors' top conference rival. Switching dates, UH officials say, could reduce that amount by up to $250,000.

In 1998, UH issued 38,745 tickets for a Thursday night game against Arizona, well short of the number expected for a season-opening game.

"We understand the sensitivity to" a date change, Benson said. "We're trying to work through the logistics to accommodate the demands and requests of ESPN and the issues surrounding the University of Hawai'i playing on a Friday. We're sensitive to all factors — from the high schools to the media to the fans. Hopefully, we'll be able to come up with an acceptable resolution."