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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Sunday, July 21, 2002

No-name opponents a hard sell

By Ferd Lewis
Advertiser Columnist

Now that the University of Hawai'i has chosen to go the pay-per-view route and tack on a ticket surcharge for its home football schedule, it should step back and take a good, long look at what it will be selling.

Eastern Illinois this year?

Sacramento State a season after that?

Those names aren't likely to bring the fans or the money flowing in. Not enough certainly to offset the shortfall in the K5 television contract. From $1.3 million in guaranteed TV rights last season, UH will pocket just $700,000 this season.

That's a significant gap, one not likely to be bridged by continuing the annual diet of Portland State, Montana, Eastern Illinois, Sacramento State, etc., to help fill out a puka on the non-conference dance card.

As good as they might be on the Division I-AA level — and the Grizzlies were I-AA champions last year — they are not the marquee opponents guaranteed to excite fringe fans and spike sales. Especially if there is an absence of "name" schools on the rest of the schedule.

And, let's face it, with the exception of the growing rivalry with Fresno State, few the Western Athletic Conference opponents have succeeded in capturing the imagination of the paying public, either. And, it is anyone's guess when they might.

So, what you have in most seasons is a schedule that leaves the Warriors with but three non-conference opportunities to either entice a swing segment of fans or lose them.

Between the pay-per-view scheme, the season-ticket surcharge and a schedule that could be a lot more attractive, UH these days is in danger of all but encouraging too many of its fans to pick and choose the games they will attend or buy.

For a school that needs its football season to be a robust breadwinner if the whole 19-sport program is to prosper and grow, that isn't the best way to go about business.

The Warriors are fortunate that while they sometimes have trouble getting and holding onto brand-name opponents they are still much better off than the rest of the WAC. For all their recent struggles, at least they aren't trying to sell El Paso, Texas, or Ruston, La., as a recruiting trip reward destination.

Nobody is saying the Warriors have to subscribe to the same death wish as Fresno State coach Pat Hill, who, for yet another season is taking on all comers wherever — usually in places like Columbus, Ohio, or Madison Wis., — he can find them.

But somewhere there is a happy medium to be found. Somewhere there is a blend that will work for the Warriors, who need to be able to offer their fans compelling attractions and still have something left for the WAC season.

As UH embarks upon its upcoming change in athletic leadership, finding a way to build a better, more attractive football schedule, is something that can't come too soon.