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Ferd's Words

Benson might have an ace up his sleeve for the WAC

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You hate to shoot holes in popular theory, but is it possible that Western Athletic Conference commissioner Karl Benson’s focus these last couple of weeks really hasn’t been his golf game?

Could it be that the reason he hasn’t addressed WAC expansion in substantive terms in the media is that he not only has half a clue but a full, on-going plan?

We bring this up because indications are Benson, who is the WAC’s longest-serving commissioner as he begins year 17 today, has something up his sleeve at the moment well beyond the names of the usual suspects that have been trotted out: Montana, North Texas, Sacramento State, Texas State (San Marcos) etc.

Speculation is that one reason the WAC didn’t extend a desperation membership invitation or two this week – and that’s what most of the names that have been tossed about would have amounted to at this point – is that the conference is waiting for a proactive scenario to play out.

Call it Benson’s Hail Mary Pass – for that is what it likely amounts to. A long shot to be sure that probably involves trying to woo a former WAC member back to the lodge.

Benson does not refute the scenario, merely parroting "no comment" when pressed. UH officials do not reject it out of hand either, citing an apparent conference-wide confidentiality pact in referring questions to Benson.

Let’s not kid ourselves, Boise State can’t put the WAC in its rear-view mirror fast enough and, because of its place well down the college football TV food chain, the conference has few realistic options.

But it doesn’t have to be out of downs or time yet and what you want is its commissioner lobbing some balls into the end zone until the clock runs out.

Past members of the WAC Board of Directors haven’t always given him that leeway. In fact, you wonder how much of the straits the conference finds itself in now could have been avoided if some of the current and past presidents and chancellors had followed his lead at key junctures.

More so than the NFL or NBA, college commissioners operate at the pleasure of the presidents and chancellors who make up the member institutions and pay their salaries. Commissioners can plead, prod and recommend all they want, but everything from the choice of dessert at the annual meetings to the membership invitations, as the late Stan Sheriff used to like to point out, ultimately comes down to the whims of the folks atop the ivory towers.

It will be recalled, for instance, that the athletic directors wanted a 12-team WAC in 1996. Instead, the presidents went with the fateful 16. Benson pushed for a two-division WAC that could make a run at Bowl Championship Series status and they splintered.

He wanted solidarity pledges and they wanted to run at the first notions – false, as it turned out – of widespread expansion. He proposed a 10-member WAC a couple years back, they stood at nine.

Now, as they consider where to go from here with eight, you hope they’ll give Benson’s plan, whatever it might be, half a chance.

Because however much of a longshot it might be, right now that is about the only one they have.

Reach Ferd Lewis at flewis@staradvertiser.com.

 

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