By Ferd Lewis
When the Sheraton Hawai'i Bowl was created in 2002 it was fortunate to land Conference USA as one half of its pairing.
Certified just seven months before the kickoff of its inaugural game, the bowl had to take what it could and C-USA made a handy and willing partner to play hometown Hawai'i and the Western Athletic Conference.
But as the game comes into the fourth and final year of that contract and looks toward its future, you have to wonder if there isn't a better, more attractive pairing for 2006 and beyond?
Somebody like the Pac-10, perhaps.
Indeed, with a number of bowls and conferences casting around for partners for '06 and beyond, it is a scenario worth investigating. A door worth knocking on ... hard.
The Pac-10 has five of its six existing bowl contracts up for renewal after this year. Only its Bowl Championship Series tie with the Rose Bowl is secured past this season, leaving the Holiday, Sun, Las Vegas, Insight and Emerald bowl deals subject to negotiation.
The Pac-10 has demonstrated postseason box office appeal here over the years. Match one of its members with UH and, suddenly, you've got to figure the bowl wouldn't be struggling to put 35,000 in the stands anymore.
Imagine what the 2004 game could have done if it had been UCLA or Oregon State on the sideline opposite UH instead of Alabama-Birmingham.
More important, in the rare year when, heaven help the Hawai'i Bowl, there is no UH to fall back on, a Pac-10 presence could be critical. The NCAA requires bowls to average 25,000 actual attendance or 70 percent of stadium capacity, to be relicensed. Without UH, the game has a better chance of getting there if there is a Pac-10 team rather than one from C-USA.
With a realigned C-USA that now includes WAC defectors Rice, Southern Methodist, Texas-El Paso and Tulsa and is without Louisville, are there really that many teams anybody here would be interested in?
Of course, in the bowl alignment game, where dollars speak eloquently, the per-team payouts of the Holiday Bowl ($2 million) and Sun ($1.5 million) are too lucrative for the Hawai'i Bowl, as it stands now, to bump. But the other three all advertised payouts in the neighborhood of $750,000, putting them in the same tier as the Hawai'i Bowl.
Already the Las Vegas Bowl, which, like the Hawaii Bowl, is owned by ESPN Regional Television (ERT), has said it will raise its payout. And the Fort Worth Bowl, another ERT property, is talking $1.2 million to assure it has a Big 12 presence.
Can the Hawai'i Bowl make the kind of a bid that will attract the Pac-10? Maybe the question is: Can it afford not to?
Reach Ferd Lewis at email@example.com or 525-8044.