Wolf Pack travels light
• Photo gallery: Hawaii Bowl news conference
By Ferd Lewis
Advertiser Staff Writer
Asked who he thought the Aloha Stadium crowd will root for in Thursday's Sheraton Hawai'i Bowl — ex-Hawai'i coach June Jones and Southern Methodist or his own University of Nevada team — Wolf Pack coach Chris Ault joked, "Oh, they've got to root for the WAC representative ... there's no question."
With only about "100-ish" Wolf Pack followers projected to buy tickets from the school, according to its spokesman, Nevada can use all the backing it can get.
But the matter of fan support for the Wolf Pack in its bowl games is no joke in the bowl community.
For all that its football team has accomplished on the field in the past five seasons, including a share of a WAC title and two second-place finishes, the school is viewed as one whose followers "travel" poorly by the bowl community.
"It is an issue in the (bowl) business," said officials with bowl ties who asked to remain anonymous.
So much so that speculation is that the New Mexico Bowl accepted Fresno State back again this year after a 2008 appearance — a rarity in the bowl business — rather than take Nevada with its track record.
Nevada was only paired with the Hawai'i Bowl on Dec. 6, one day after UH finished its season failing to become bowl eligible. Nevada officials said the 12-day turnaround and economy have been factors in slow ticket sales this year.
But people who have been involved with the game say Nevada's turnout here in 2005, which was pegged at fewer than 100, remains the smallest of any team that has appeared in the game's seven previous seasons.
Moreover, of that 2005 turnout, almost half were said to have been accounted for by family and friends of Kamehameha Schools graduate Caleb Spencer.
Even East Carolina, Alabama-Birmingham and Tulane, schools that have covered much more distance, have been said to have brought more fans. Boise State is credited with having traveled about 2,000 for its 2007 appearance.
Projections are for SMU to sell upwards of 500 tickets to its fans.
Hawai'i Bowl executive director David Matlin declined comment yesterday. Matlin said the game has so far distributed about 29,000 tickets.
Out-of-town fans are important not only for the hotels and visitor industry that help sponsor the event but for the game itself which must achieve a minimum average 25,000 turnstile attendance over a rolling three-year period or risk losing its NCAA certification.
The Hawai'i Bowl drew more than 40,000 for last year's Hawai'i-Notre Dame matchup but numbers could become important in future years.
Nevada, as the WAC representative, is contracted to sell or be responsible for approximately 5,600 tickets. Most of the tickets Nevada is unable to sell will have to be purchased by the school or WAC. Many are already said to have been donated to the military community, schools and charities.
SMU, as the Conference USA representative, is responsible for approximately 10,000 and is also donating to military, schools and charitable organizations.