Hawaii quarterback Cole McDonald (13) scrambles through the UNLV defense trying to gain yards during the second quarter of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Nov. 17, 2018, in Honolulu. 

Arizona opens the 2019 football season at Hawaii. If a school plays at Hawaii, the NCAA allows that school to schedule a 13th game. The idea behind the so-called “Hawaii Exemption” is that an extra game, presumably at home, can help offset the cost of traveling to the islands.

Arizona elected not to schedule a 13th game. Instead, the Wildcats will have an extra bye — giving them three in a season in which most schools have two (which is one more than usual).

When the official ’19 schedule came out Tuesday, many UA fans wondered why Arizona didn’t add a 13th game — especially considering that the Wildcats play the Rainbow Warriors in “Week Zero,” before the majority of teams play their first game.

After conferring with two sources and doing some independent internet research, here’s what I found out:

* Arizona isn’t the only school on Hawaii’s 2019 home schedule that opted out of the 13th game. Of the four non-conference opponents slated to visit Aloha Stadium, only Army is playing an extra game. And it's worth noting that the Black Knights get an extra bye annually because the Army-Navy game is played in mid-December.

* Fellow Pac-12 member Oregon State also plays at Hawaii this year and isn’t playing an extra game. The Beavers played it the same way in 2014. Per the Oregonian, OSU did add a 13th game when it played at Hawaii in 2006. However, there was no Pac-12 Championship Game at the time, and the Hawaii game was on Dec. 2.

* As mentioned, Arizona plays Hawaii a week before the season really gets going, on Aug. 24. So why not schedule another home game? In short, school officials decided the potential benefits did not outweigh the real costs. Last year, Arizona paid Southern Utah $500,000 to play at Arizona Stadium. Would a home game against an opponent of similar caliber — on Labor Day weekend, when attendance typically is lacking — cover that cost? Maybe. But not by enough to make it worthwhile.

* Arizona’s actual schedule also is a factor. The Wildcats play three home games in September as it is. Would Tucsonans have an appetite for a fourth game — kicking off at 7 p.m. or later because of the heat — against a relatively unattractive opponent? Recent attendance figures suggest they would not.

* We mentioned “Oregon State” and “Pac-12 Championship Game” in the same paragraph above. Laugh all you want, but that’s the goal for every Pac-12 school, no matter how down on their luck they are at the moment. Arizona unexpectedly played in the 2014 Pac-12 title game, followed by a bowl game — resulting in a 14-game season. Add an extra regular-season game to that, and it’s 15 — 25 percent more than the standard 12-game schedule.

* Instead of a potentially exhausting gauntlet of games, Arizona has three byes. And byes have benefits. They enable players to rest and recuperate from travel and injuries. They give coaches more time to recruit, teach and prepare for the next opponent. Ideally, Arizona’s first bye would have fallen before the Texas Tech game, not the NAU game. Arizona looked into moving the NAU game to Week 1, but it didn’t work out.

* You’d think having an extra game would make it easier for Arizona to gain bowl eligibility, but that’s not necessarily the case. Teams must be .500 or better to be considered in the initial wave, and only one win against an FCS opponent can count toward that. Only if there aren’t enough eligible teams to fill all the bowl slots would a 6-7 team be considered. (This does not apply to teams that finish the regular season 6-6 but lose their conference-championship game.)

Contact sports reporter Michael Lev at 573-4148 or mlev@tucson.com. On Twitter @michaeljlev 


Michael is an award-winning journalist who has been covering sports professionally since the early '90s. He started at the Star in 2015 after spending 15 years at The Orange County Register. Michael is a graduate of Northwestern University.