POSTED: 01:30 a.m. HST, May 15, 2012
SALT LAKE CITY » Mention the Western Athletic Conference to Hall of Fame coach LaVell Edwards, and he thinks back to Brigham Young's 1984 national championship with a junior quarterback named Robbie Bosco and a team that wasn't even ranked when the season started.
It's a high point that seems like ancient history now.
The football conference that once was so big it spanned four time zones and required quadrants to arrange its 16 teams, is withering.
"I feel bad for the WAC," said the retired Edwards, an assistant at BYU when it and five other schools banded together in 1962 to form the conference. "That was a great conference. It had a lot of teams that were coming on the scene, getting better all the time."
This fall could very well be the league's last as a football entity, as defections have decimated the WAC ranks.
Hawaii, Fresno State and Nevada jump to the Mountain West this fall. In 2013, Utah State and San Jose State also leave for the Mountain West, while Louisiana Tech heads to Conference USA.
Texas-San Antonio will play this fall in the WAC but decided to jump to Conference USA for 2013 as well. Texas State also will play one season in the WAC before jumping to the Sun Belt in 2013.
That leaves two remaining football schools: Idaho and New Mexico State.
Trying to figure out where to go from here is interim commissioner Jeff Hurd, who called the last few months hectic, frustrating and challenging and knows a decision that offers long-term stability, not just a quick fix, is needed soon.
He refuses to concede the WAC will become a nonfootball conference, though that is certainly one option.
He knows some already have written off the WAC completely.
"If the WAC goes bust, it won't be from a lack of effort and lack of exploring every possible avenue there is," said Hurd, who is working with a consultant, athletic administrators and the WAC's board.
His belief is based on WAC history, specifically the 16-team conference's split just three years after it became the biggest in the land.
"Every newspaper column I read (back then said the) WAC was done," Hurd said. "It was done as a football league, was done as a conference, and couldn't possibly survive without the schools that left.
"I think we not only recovered from that, but very nicely. I believe with every fabric of my being the same thing will happen. We can recover from this and rebuild."
Hurd cited the Clint Eastwood movie -- "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly" -- when describing the 26 years he has been part of the WAC.
"The bad and ugly fall into the same category -- primarily the constant movement the league has experienced over the past 15 years," he said. "It seems to me if it's not been a revolving door, it's close to it. That's been frustrating."
While some see the WAC as the Rodney Dangerfield of conferences in that it gets no respect, it has had more than its share of success -- and stars.
Steve Young (BYU), Marshall Faulk (San Diego State) and LaDainian Tomlinson (TCU) played their entire college careers in the WAC. Ty Detmer (BYU) won the Heisman in 1990. Hawaii's Colt Brennan was a Heisman finalist.
In 1996, the WAC became so big, expanding from 10 to 16 teams -- some, including BYU's Edwards -- thought it was too big.
"In retrospect, perhaps the WAC was ahead of its time," Hurd said, pointing to the super-conferences of today. "The unfortunate part is it was never really given an opportunity to succeed."
The 16-team alignment lasted just three seasons before Air Force, BYU, Colorado State, UNLV, New Mexico, San Diego State, Utah and Wyoming left to form the Mountain West Conference.
Boise State was added in 2001, but it left the league to play in the Mountain West starting in 2011.
The devastating blow, Idaho athletic director Rob Spear said, came when Fresno State and Nevada found a way in 2010 to get out of their agreement to stay in the WAC, "creating a tremendous amount of turmoil" within the league.
The 1984 BYU team is still hailed as the last school outside a major football conference to win a national championship.