Arts & Entertainment, Sports

Picking Splinters: For Cinderella, It

Why does Hawaii even bother with Division I-A football? In fact, why does any program not in the SEC, Pac-10, Big Ten, Big XII, ACC or Big East?

The Warriors have done nothing but win, 11 times to be exact, and they're just now cracking the BCS Top 12, a level necessary to receive an automatic at-large bid to a BCS bowl game. Not the national championship, mind you, just a regular run-of-the-mill BCS game a la Boise State last year that can earn the school some money, but not the sports' crown. And that's if Hawaii doesn't slip up for the first time all season against the University of Washington.

You don't need to remind me that Hawaii hasn't played many good teams this season. But maybe you need me to remind you that Ohio State, who will vie for the National Championship should Missouri or West Virginia stumble Saturday, hasn't either.

En route to the top of a watered-down Big Ten, the Buckeyes have beaten just one opponent ranked in the current AP Top 25. Coincidentally, that's the same number of Top 25 opponents that Hawaii has beaten this season. Oh yeah, and OSU lost at home to three-loss Illinois.

So what's the argument for keeping Hawaii down again? Oh yeah, that's right, the runts shouldn't play with the big kids because the runts have no chance at actually winning. Though I seem to recall a game about a year ago when Boise State dumped Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl.

Is the collective memory of college football really that bad? Has Boise's statement already been stricken from the minds that mind the health of the sport?

No, no one has forgotten. Certainly not the BCS, who is using flashbacks from that game to tease this season's meaningless undercard of upper-echelon bowl games. Coaches haven't forgotten either, and that's exactly why Hawaii faces its weak schedule dilemma. This season, no big-time BCS program was willing to give Hawaii a game.

As ESPN.com's Mark Schlabach reported, Hawaii Head Coach June Jones wanted to schedule a host of top opponents this season. They all shied away. The Warriors wanted to open their season against the Wolverines of Michigan at the Big House. Michigan refused and penned in Division I-AA Appalachian State instead. Karmic justice ensued.

Michigan State was already on Hawaii's 2007 schedule, but the Spartans actually paid so they wouldn't have to play. The Spartans shelled out $250,000 to cancel the game. Good thing for Greece these Spartans weren't the ones standing behind King Leonidas at Thermopylae.

After Michigan State bowed out, Jones tried to sign up Southern California, but the Trojans turned them away too.

A weak schedule is a fair criticism in the current subjective search for a Division I-A football national champion. Why should a team claim one of two coveted berths when they haven't proven themselves against top competition in the regular season? Hawaii's situation spins that argument around. How are you supposed to prove yourself against top competition in the regular season if the top competition turns tail at the potential of a mid-major loss?

I don't entirely blame perennial powers from turning down games of that nature. Truth is, the Michigans and USCs of the world have nothing to gain. It's not a guaranteed win, it doesn't help their strength of schedule and it doesn't promise a national television audience. Those are big chances when your trusted with a football team that's attempting to generate revenue and win a title in a system where one miscue might prove fatal. Of course, all of that makes Washington Head Coach Ty Willingham even gutsier and classier for scheduling both Hawaii and Boise State this season.

But Willingham is the exception. And the NCAA isn't about to force large programs to schedule mid-majors any time soon. Given those circumstances, you have to ask, what is Hawaii even doing here? Why should they even be in the BCS rankings if they're forbidden from reaching the top? If winning every game isn't good enough, and power programs can place them in purgatory by not playing them, what more can the Warriors do? Why should Hawaii, and teams like the Warriors, stay in Division I-A when Division I-A treats these programs like step children? Sure, the powers that be will pat Cinderella on the head when she helps them out by sweeping up the ashes … or knocking off Oklahoma and giving the world what might be the single greatest finish to a college football game ever. But a year later, teams like Boise State and Hawaii are once again on the outside looking in. Cinderella can get to the ball, but the Bowl? Forget about it. For mid-major football programs, it's always midnight come New Year's.

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