By Brian Murphy
The WAC filed a complaint against Fresno State, Nevada and the Mountain West Conference in Jefferson County, Colorado on Sept. 9 to seek a ruling on the schools' departure date from the league, commissioner Karl Benson said Tuesday.
The purpose of the suit is to keep Fresno State and Nevada in the WAC through the end of the 2011-12 athletic calendar. Fresno State and Nevada have indicated their desire to leave the league for the Mountain West at the end of the 2010-11 calendar.
"We need assurances Fresno State and Nevada will meet their obligations to participate in the WAC in 2011-12," Benson said during a teleconference with media Tuesday.
WAC bylaws state that schools have to give notification before July 1 in order to leave the league by the next June. Boise State met this deadline, which is why the school is not subject to the lawsuit.
Fresno State and Nevada informed the WAC of its desire to leave on Aug. 18. Benson said he had no communication with Fresno State or Nevada about the WAC's insistence that the schools remain in the league.
"WAC legal counsel recommended" the complaint, Benson said.
The WAC code book gives the termination date as Sept. 1. Benson said the change was made to the bylaws — "the governing document," according to Benson — in 2006. The change was not reflected in the code book.
Fresno State and Nevada have 30 days to answer the complaint, Benson said. He expects a decision within 30 days of the schools answering the complaint. Fresno State and Nevada have contacted WAC legal counsel, Benson said.
Benson said the WAC would be damaged in several ways if the schools left. Among the damages: TV contract with ESPN, WAC basketball tournament, BCS implications and football scheduling.
"There's a myriad of reasons why Fresno State and Nevada need to fulfill their obligation. There's a reason why there are notification dates to allow a conference adequate time and reasonable time," Benson said.
Benson said the Mountain West was named in the complaint to stop the conference from scheduling conference games that include Fresno State and Nevada. He said there was no evidence that the Mountain West had begun doing so.
Benson said it would not be the first time that schools departing the WAC have played two "lame duck" seasons in the league. He noted that TCU, SMU, Rice and Tulsa have done so.
Boise State is not a party to the lawsuit, though money from the school's dues could be used to fund the lawsuit.
Benson said he still expects both Fresno State and Nevada to comply with the $5 million buyout penalty. He said that is a separate matter from the departure date.
"They are not linked to each other. They are sequenced and right now we are addressing the issue that is the most urgent. That is the departure date," Benson said. "At some point in time, if and when the other becomes an issue, we'll address that as well."
WAC membership changes
Benson said the league's membership committee has met twice via conference call in the last week and he expects the group to meet in-person on Sept. 27 in Dallas.
"We're still in the early stages of evaluating structure, evaluating models," Benson said.
Benson said he is confident that the WAC would have eight teams minimum in 2012. He said the league could have 10 or 12 teams by then and include a combination of football-playing and non-football playing schools.
Could the in-person meeting in Dallas be an indication of how the membership committee is leaning (i.e., Texas State, UT-San Antonio)?
From the league:
WAC Seeks Judicial Determination Regarding Departure Date
DENVER - Western Athletic Conference commissioner Karl Benson announced today that in order to protect the WAC, WAC member institutions and its student-athletes, the WAC is seeking a judicial determination as to the date that Fresno State and the University of Nevada Reno may terminate their membership with the WAC.
The WAC has maintained -- consistent with the bylaws -- that these institutions may not depart the WAC until June 30, 2012. However, through both direct communication with individuals at both schools and media reports, Fresno State and University of Nevada Reno have indicated an intention to terminate their membership with the WAC prior to the date allowed by the bylaws.
Due to the irreparable injury such early withdrawal would cause to the WAC, a judicial determination is required in the near future. Additionally, as communications occurred regarding the Mountain West Conference's desire to schedule conference play with Fresno State and University of Nevada Reno prior to June 30, 2012, the WAC is also seeking injunctive relief from such action.
"The WAC is simply seeking to protect its interests and insure that all member institutions are protected from a potential and threatened violation of the bylaws." said Benson. "Such inappropriate action would make it impossible for member institutions to schedule athletic events and thereby would adversely affect the WAC, the WAC member institutions and the student-athletes."
Fresno State, Nevada reaction
From Fresno State: "We've been advised by the WAC that it has initiated legal action. That is unfortunate. We believe that all the issues can be resolved through discussion rather than through costly legal proceedings."
From Nevada: "I am disappointed. It is unfortunate that this matter has moved to litigation before any discussions between the parties were undertaken. We have been very public about our desire to resolve these matters directly with the Western Athletic Conference and to do so as expeditiously as possible. At this point, our university legal counsel is in contact with the WAC's attorney."
A word on preseason polls
This is a very strong piece from CBSSports.com's Gregg Doyel on why preseason polls need to go — and why they haven't.
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