by Ralph Routon
The deal is done for the University of Hawaii to join the Mountain West Conference for football only starting in 2012, becoming the latest school to bolt the Western Athletic Conference. Hawaii made the announcement Friday afternoon after accepting the invitation, and it will join the Big West Conference for other sports.
Boise State is making the WAC-to-MWC jump in 2011, followed by Nevada and Fresno State — now along with Hawaii for football — in 2012.
Here's how the game of musical chairs looks now: Utah and Brigham Young are leaving the Mountain West next summer, Utah for the Pacific 12 and BYU to become an independent, which means the MWC will have eight members in 2011. TCU is leaving for the Big East in 2012, meaning that the Mountain West then would have 10 members.
Speculation persists that the Mountain West's goal now is to wind up with 12 members, setting up two divisions with six teams each and a conference championship game in football. There have been no confirmations of what schools the Mountain West still might pursue, but the possibilities (which might come as a pair) range from Utah State and Texas-El Paso to Southern Methodist and Houston.
Another factor is that Hawaii won't be participating in the Mountain West for other sports, so the MWC might look into a non-football school that could even out the membership for basketball in particular. Then again, the Mountain West has existed with nine basketball (and football) members for years.
These developments also raise the question of whether the WAC can continue to remain relevant as a major-college football conference starting in 2012.
Hawaii, Nevada and Fresno State are all playing in bowl games this year. Hawaii, ranked 24th nationally, is facing Tulsa in the Sheraton Hawaii Bowl on Dec. 24 in Honolulu. Nevada, rated as high as No. 13 with its 12-1 record and victory over Boise State, faces Boston College in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl on Jan. 9 in San Francisco. Fresno State will play against Northern Illinois in the Humanitarian Bowl on Dec. 18 at Boise.