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Utah State stood strong when Nevada, Fresno fled

By Ferd Lewis

LAST UPDATED: 1:48 a.m. HST, Oct 22, 2010

OGDEN, Utah » For the University of Hawaii, tomorrow's football game against Utah State could have easily been the third consecutive hard feelings showdown with a deserter from the Western Athletic Conference.

After renegades Fresno State and Nevada, Utah State could have rounded out a traitorous troika by bolting for the Mountain West.

And, except for the principled stand of one man, USU president Stan Albrecht, it might have.

Albrecht was the first president of a WAC institution to not only reject an advance from the MWC but remain steadfast in his solidarity pledge.

In short, Albrecht was the only one to stand by his word and hold his ground when expansion tremors hit in August. It can't have been easy, especially when you know the Aggies' history in this state and the potential ramifications.

Yet, Albrecht was as solid as Mount Naomi, which overlooks the Aggies' campus, in standing by the commitment he made to the other seven schools in the WAC just days before.

When Boise State was invited to join the MWC in June, WAC commissioner Karl Benson and the remaining schools began looking for a way to make up the loss. When they were approached by Brigham Young about possibly taking on the Cougars as a member in all sports except football, for which BYU would chart an independent course, the WAC jumped at the opportunity.

Few more than Albrecht, a former BYU vice president who became the main intermediary in putting together a deal that would return BYU to the WAC it had left in 1999. As part of the deal, the eight remaining schools agreed to a solidarity pact to stay together and levied a $5 million departure fee.

When the MWC got wind of what was going down, it hastily sought to dissuade BYU -- or blow up the WAC -- by raiding its rival's membership. An emissary approached Utah State, asking if the Aggies would be interested in joining the MWC. No small carrot for USU, which had coveted WAC membership for 40 years and lived in the shadow of in-state rivals Utah and BYU.

But Albrecht stood by his plan -- and his commitment -- rejecting the overture, saying at the time, "we were simply committed to uphold our agreement with fellow WAC members. We respectfully declined MWC interest and believed all WAC members would remain committed to our agreement."

So, too, initially, at least, did Nevada president Milton Glick, according to people familiar with the events. But when the MWC approached Fresno State president John Welty, he not only agreed to jump but, according to people who claim knowledge of the issue, helped persuade Nevada to flip-flop.

That was two months ago, a period that shook the WAC to its foundation and has left its future up in the air along with those of UH, Utah State and four other WAC schools. As tough as things are now, they would be worse had Utah State turned tail and run like Nevada and Fresno.

So, we asked Albrecht, given the perspective of time, if faced with the same decision, whether he'd do it differently.

"In retrospect, I would make exactly the same decision that I made when the initial call was received," Albrecht said. "While I fully understand the implications of that decision for our institution, I do not feel I could have responded otherwise."

In a time of easy virtue when events have shown too many college presidents to be little more than rug merchants with PhDs, Albrecht's integrity has stood above the crowd and he and his school have paid a price for it.

You just hope the Aggies' defense doesn't prove as resolute tomorrow as its president.

Reach Ferd Lewis at

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