By Brian Murphy
WAC to discuss options Wednesday
Western Athletic Conference commissioner Karl Benson told the Idaho Statesman on Tuesday that the non-expansion by the Mountain West clears the way for his league move forward.
"This now allows us to get serious about exploring our options and we do have options," Benson said. "Now that San Jose State (and) Utah State are going to be part of the WAC's future, we can move forward and complete the plan that we have started."
The league scheduled a conference call for Wednesday to discuss its next steps — in light of the Mountain West meetings. Membership will be a topic, but Benson does not expect any decisions to be made on the call.
The WAC will have seven football-playing members and one non-football school (Denver) in 2012. Benson said the priority is finding football members.
"We have to be realistic that the pool of football candidates more than likely doesn't exist in the West," Benson said.
That could mean more attention in Texas.
He also said the league could add additional non-football-playing members.
"When we look at the football side, nine would be a good number. Then it's just a matter of how many non-football we might look at," Benson said.
Mountain West will not expand now
The Mountain West Conference has decided 10 is enough — for now.
Boise State's new league will not be adding teams, as has been speculated for the last 24 hours. The league issued a statement Tuesday afternoon. The full statement is below, but here is the key part:
"The Board feels strongly the membership configuration already established going forward creates outstanding prospects for future success."
Here is the MWC's 2012 lineup;
Hawaii (football only)
San Diego State
Quick thoughts on the Mountain West's decision:
• It is very good news for Idaho and the WAC. It means the league has a future going forward and the Vandals have a place to play without worrying about exploring other options, such as returning to FCS. (See below for more on Idaho)
• It is terrible news for Utah State. Sources around the Aggies' program have been telling reporters that they were in, so obviously Utah State must have believed they were getting an invite.
Yes, this could be similar to the Boise State situation from this summer where Utah State gets in later, but this has got to be a painful blow.
• It is good news for Boise State. The Broncos' football program could have been put in an Eastern Division with none of the California teams, Nevada teams or Hawaii, if Utah State and San Jose State were invited. That would have hurt attendance and recruiting in California.
• It is good for the Mountain West. The league, in my opinion, can take a wait-and-see attitude. What is going to happen with the Big 12 where there are rumblings Texas A&M is not happy with Texas' big TV deal with ESPN? What is going to happen with the Big East, which sounds like it is still looking for another football member?
The Mountain West does not need to reach to take Utah State and San Jose State. It can afford to be more selective.
Full statement from Mountain West Conference
The Mountain West Conference just issued a statement at the conclusion of its meetings:
"Over the past two days, the Board of Directors has engaged in a very thorough discussion of several key topics pertinent to the future of the Mountain West Conference. This has included, but not been limited to, issues related to television, the Bowl Championship Series and membership. The Board feels strongly the membership configuration already established going forward creates outstanding prospects for future success. In addition, we are continuing with our strategic initiatives related to our television partnerships and the MWC's efforts to effect change in the BCS structure. The Board is excited about what is undoubtedly a bright future for the Conference."
Idaho president: 'It's been a good thing for us to be at the FBS level'
With reports from the Utah media that Western Athletic Conference schools Utah State and, potentially, San Jose State could be the next programs to jump the Mountain West Conference, Idaho's athletic department could be in a precarious position.
If Utah State and San Jose State join the Mountain West, the Vandals would be left in a league with current members New Mexico State and Louisiana Tech and incoming members Texas State, UT-San Antonio and non-football playing Denver.
That is if the WAC survives at all.
Since Boise State accepted an invitation to the Mountain West in June, fellow current WAC members Fresno State, Nevada and Hawaii have also left the WAC for the Mountain West. Hawaii is joining the league as a football-only member.
The Mountain West has eight teams for the 2011 football season, including Boise State and TCU.
Currently, the league has 10 teams for the 2012 football season — with Fresno State, Nevada and Hawaii entering and TCU departing for the Big East.
I spoke with Idaho president Duane Nellis on Tuesday about the Vandals' athletic future.
Question: In light of the media reporters, have you had conversations about where the best place for the University of Idaho is long-term?
Answer: We continue to have discussions internally and externally about what’s best for the University of Idaho. I don’t want to speculate on what might happen as conferences continue to go through these adjustments, but we certainly want to position the University of Idaho to provide an athletic environment for our teams and be consistent with the mission of our university, too.
We’ve been exploring a lot of different options, including a reconfigured Western Athletic Conference. We’re also looking at a lot of different options right now, but I prefer not to speculate.
There’s always a lot of interesting — rumors may be too strong a word — but there’s a lot of that out there. It’s hard to know exactly where this is all going to end up.
We’ve appreciated the Western Athletic Conference and what it’s provided to the University of Idaho and, if you look, we’ve been very competitive.
Question: Is a return to the FCS a consideration?
Answer: Let me just say we’ve been committed to staying at the FBS level. So, I think that’s important for our university as we try to move forward. I guess that’s all I’ll say about that: It’s been a good thing for us to be at the FBS level.
Question: Are you dismayed by this conference realignment and losing geographic touch?
Answer: It is disappointing that, I think, American college athletics is being driven primarily by TV contract and revenue. I think it’s taking away a lot of actual rivalries. I think it’s been great our rivalry with Boise State for over 40 years. Over 40 years. And I think it’s important for our state.
I was in the Big 12 Conference. I was at Kansas State University as the senior vice president and provost. And the Nebraska/K-State rivalry went back, I think, close to 100 years, maybe over 100 years. It’s gone now.
Colorado had been in the former Big 7, Big 8 and then Big 12 and a lot of long-term rivalries there. Again, driven, I think, by interest in TV revenue. And some of the configurations, the amount of travel for college athletes, is that best relative to them as student-athletes? I think there’s a trade-off in that, too.
So I think we’ve lost some focus. I think nationally there’s been some movement away from again what is best from the tradition of rivalries and what’s best for college athletics.
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