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Thursday, October 23, 2014         

FERD'S WORDS


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In a world where dollars rule, the WAC is offering change

By Ferd Lewis

POSTED:



"Have you heard anything yet?" a University of Idaho athletic administrator had asked excitedly.

"Are we getting into the conference? The suspense is killing us."

That was in 2005 when the Western Athletic Conference was rolling out an expansion welcome mat that would also greet Utah State and New Mexico State.

These days, as the WAC ponders its latest round of expansion, the conference has its work cut out for it as never before in a nearly half-century history.

For sure the anticipation is no longer as breathless and there is a lot less clamoring to be heard at the conference gates.

If the WAC adds a replacement for Boise State, which will jump to the Mountain West in 2011 - and nobody was saying yesterday if or when it might - the task is decidedly more challenging for its Board of Directors.

Part of it is because the WAC's revolving door has spun briskly in the last 12 years with six schools in and 14 out, leaving the already sparse western landscape well-picked over.

Then, too, the WAC has changed significantly. Once it was seen as a destination conference where you stayed for decades. But since founders Brigham Young, Utah and the rest moved on, it has, for the past 15 years, become more of a stepping-stone league.

It is a place you stop on the way to somewhere else. Those that have choices, anyway. Witness, in recent years, Texas Christian, Texas-El Paso and, now, Boise State.

The ones remaining are those largely without options, the University of Hawaii foremost among them as the senior member reaching its 32nd anniversary next month.

As the WAC surveys the pool of prospective members, there are none of the gotta-have variety that jump out at you the way Fresno State, TCU and Boise State once did. Few are beseeching the WAC the way UH once did, either.

Still, Manoa Chancellor Virginia Hinshaw said in an e-mail, "The WAC is thinking strategically about adding other schools based on consideration of academics, geography, competitiveness in different sports and general fit for the WAC. There are a number of universities that could fulfill those considerations now or in the near future, so we will discuss the feasibility of adding such universities."

In time, Montana could be atop the pile, but the Grizzlies first have to decide if walking away from being a perennial national title contender in the Football Championship Subdivision makes sense. Even if they could afford it.

UC Davis, Portland State, Cal Poly, Texas State and Sacramento State also have financial issues - like whether they can add $5 million to $10 million to be competitive - to wrestle with.

North Texas, one of the few Football Bowl Subdivision teams looking for a new-tie up, turned the WAC down five years ago and has hopes of a Conference USA invite. San Diego State and Nevada-Las Vegas would be the most ideal fits but have little reason to bolt the Mountain West.

Yet, commissioner Karl Benson maintains, "I'm optimistic we'll once again land on our feet."

This time, even for a league well-acquainted with turnover, that would be quite a feat.

 

Reach Ferd Lewis at flewis@staradvertiser.com






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