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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, August 26, 2008

As far as road trips go, this one makes little sense

By Ferd Lewis
Advertiser Columnist

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser
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The University of Hawai'i football team leaves today for its season opener with Florida and the question that has hung over it for three years is:

Why?

Don't get me wrong, please. We question this trip not because the Gators are 35-point favorites on some betting lines now but because, for several reasons, the whole concept seemed a head scratcher from the day it was signed in 2005.

To be sure, if you're UH, a team 2,500 miles off college football's beaten path, you want to play good teams in the non-conference portion of your schedule. A nationally ranked one or two hopefully. It builds interest and boosts credibility. And you sometimes have to jump on a plane or two to accomplish it.

But it is usually done as part and parcel of a plan and trade-off. For instance, when UH played at Michigan State (2005) and USC (2003) and will play at Oregon State (2008), Washington State (2009), Washington (2011) and Colorado (2010) it was usually part of a two-for-one or, at least home-and-home deal. Those teams played or will play in Aloha Stadium at least once, if not twice, for each time the Warriors hit the road.

That approach makes financial sense. All attract a crowd and, particularly in Halawa, give UH a chance for a marquee win. Witness what UH did to Michigan State in 2004 and Washington last year.

Florida affords none of those opportunities as the contract is currently constituted. The Gators have never played UH here and, according to the contract, aren't on the books to come. Which is smart on Florida's part. With the kind of distance between these two or, indeed, UH and anybody on the East Coast, it isn't an enviable or particularly wise trip.

This stacks up as the second-longest football trip in UH history after Rutgers (1975). The 4,813 miles UH will travel to get to Gainesville, Fla., site of Saturday's game, is farther than the Warriors would have to go to play in Tokyo or even some places in Russia.

Nor is the paycheck UH will receive for doing so especially lucrative. Under terms of the deal, UH is to receive $600,000 payable by Feb 1, 2009. That's $50,000 less than they got for going to Alabama two years ago and only $100,000 more than they'll get for going to Colorado, two time zones closer, in 2010.

According to UH estimates, since the Florida deal was signed, about half of that will go to pay for airfare, hotels, etc. Only now, with the rise in fuel prices, UH is doing the bulk of it commercially and not even in a straight line. The Warriors will fly to Los Angeles today and then on to Atlanta to headquarter before flying in to Gainesville.

As nonsensical as this game is for UH, give head coach Greg McMackin credit for saying all the right things. "Playing a Heisman Trophy winner, playing a top team and playing in The Swamp, there's a lot to look forward to," McMackin said. "There's a lot to be excited about."

But in subsequent breaths there is no doubting this will be the last such single game exercise that will be booked to the Eastern time zone, if McMackin has a say. "I think there are a lot of teams that are on our side (of the country), the West Coast or middle of the country that we can play," McMackin said. "There's no reason to play somebody that far away (again)."

And very little reason to do it this time, either.

Reach Ferd Lewis at flewis@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8044.