Thursday, August 19, 2010

Wild, wild WAC

Posted on Thu, Aug 19, 2010 at 9:00 AM

Yet more shuffling in college football conferences. Two recent defections could spell trouble for the Western Athletic Conference, the athletics home of the University of Idaho. Fresno State and Nevada, future former WAC members, both accepted invitations to join the Mountain West Conference. This, only a month after Boise State (the college football power in the WAC) made the same defection.

What does this mean for the future of the WAC? Not to paint too pessimistic a picture, but it may well be on its way to being the first Division I conference to fold since 1997. NCAA rules require Football Bowl Subdivision conferences (i.e. schools with a shot at a bowl game) to have at least eight playing members. With the recent defections, the WAC currently has six: UI, Hawaii, San Jose State, Colorado State, Louisiana Tech (yes, in the Western Athletic Conference) and New Mexico State. The conference would still retain its automatic bid to the men's basketball tournament.

The WAC could look to expansion, but it's not as if there are a bunch of Notre Dames (circa 20 years ago, when it fielded a competitive football team) lying around in California and Wyoming looking to get picked up by a mid-major conference. WAC commissioner Karl Benson will host a teleconference today addressing the issues.

It was a tumultuous day for the WAC, especially since MWC member Brigham Young University, a football power in its own right, reportedly had been considering going independent in football (a la Notre Dame) and playing all other sports affiliated with the WAC — which would have been a decent boost for the conference. Now, instead of bolstering its reputation, the conference has to scramble to come up with enough teams to be eligible even to play, if it doesn't decide to fold altogether.

There are still quite a few issues to be settled. ESPN reports the WAC, in an effort to forestall future defections after Boise State bounced, got signed agreements from all the other schools agreeing to a $5 million payout if any of them left the league. Nevada president Milt Glick says his school never signed the agreement; rest assured, this is a case that'll wind up in court. If nothing else, the lawyers will be receiving their payout. As always.

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