With the defections of Boise State, Fresno State, and Nevada in 2011, this season is the last year of the WAC as a top tier non-BCS conference and its national relevance. However throughout all of the realignment chaos, Hawaii was left behind in the WAC. Despite its exciting passing offenses and consistent record in the top tier of the league, travel costs and options of better programs on the mainland prevented them from joining the Mountain West. So what does the Hawaii do now? The solution is for Hawaii to leave what is now the Sunbelt West and go independent for football.
The reasons that Hawaii should go independent are the lack of competition in the weakened WAC, the high probability of gaining more revenues outside of the WAC, and the opportunity to become a national program with increased relevance. First when it comes to competition, Hawaii is the last of the members of the WAC from the pre-Mountain West split in 1999. The remaining WAC schools San Jose State, Utah State, LA Tech (may leave for Sunbelt or CUSA), NMSU, and Idaho are consistently among the weakest programs in the nation and are struggling to even keep their revenues up enough to make football viable. Also, the WAC's strategy to revive the conference includes calling up FCS schools which will further weaken the competitiveness and national prestige of the conference. Hawaii should be able to easily dominate this new WAC for years to come. However, a weak WAC will hurt recruiting, bowl payouts, and national TV exposure which will in the long run bring the Warriors down to the level of their competition.
However with travel cost issues, how can Hawaii do better as an independent? First Hawaii has no problems scheduling non conference. By using the "Hawaii exemption", teams are encouraged to play at Hawaii to gain an extra regular season game beyond the normal twelve games. Unlike other non-BCS schools, Hawaii has been able schedule home and home games with BCS schools such as USC, Colorado, and Oregon State while even getting single home games against schools such as Cincinnati, Northwestern, Washington, and many others. The allure of rewarding teams at the end of the season with a Hawaiian vacation and NCAA rules will enable Hawaii to schedule games easily and possibly have a BCS school caliber schedule like BYU is attempting to do with its independence (those two schools already have a 10 year home and home agreement). This can escalate Hawaii to nationally relevant program that would receive invites to more prestigious bowl games. Also a Hawaii program playing better opponents can make more money with a private ESPN television deal versus negotiating out of the weakness of the WAC.
Overall, the pros moving independent outweigh the possible pitfalls that would keep it in the WAC (exit fee). With the ability to play increase competition, revenues, and as a consequence the quality of the program leaving the decimated WAC is the best move for Hawaii football
For more of Nick's writing on sports, the financial markets, and travel check out his online magazine Contrarian Lifestyle.