Still reeling from two defections last month, the Western Athletic Conference and University of Hawaii suffered an additional setback yesterday with an announcement that Brigham Young University will move most of its teams to the West Coast Conference instead of the WAC.
What remains to be seen is if WAC member Utah State will be invited to take BYU’s place in the Mountain West Conference.
BYU, which two weeks earlier was prepared to move to the WAC in all sports except football, replacing Boise State, will instead join the WCC, a nonfootball conference, in 12 sports. The Cougars’ football team will become an independent in the same time frame.
Yesterday was the deadline for BYU to announce removal of its teams in time to compete outside the MWC for the 2011-12 school year.
UH athletic director Jim Donovan said he remained "optimistic" on WAC survival and the Warriors’ future.
Disenchantment with the MWC’s TV contract, coupled with rival Utah’s rise to the Pac-10 in June, prompted the Cougars to explore independence. That helped bring BYU and the WAC together in talks that were on the verge of an agreement. But the deal fell apart with the 11th-hour desertions by Fresno State and Nevada to the MWC on Aug. 18.
That’s when the WCC, an eight-school conference of faith-based institutions, entered the picture for BYU, which is operated by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
The fear for UH and the WAC now is that the MWC might attempt to fill the hole left by BYU’s departure with an invitation to Utah State. Indications are the Aggies, who said they turned the MWC down last month, would likely accept a second offer if one comes.
That could leave the WAC with five members — one below the minimum for automatic-qualifier status for most NCAA championships, UH said.
Utah State could be attractive to the MWC because the departures of BYU and Utah leave the MWC without a team from the Beehive State. That’s a concern for the MWC’s TV partners, Comcast and CBS, who have the option to renegotiate contracts due to the change in membership.
The WAC, too, is up for talks with its partner, ESPN, after the loss of Boise State, Fresno State and Nevada. Adding BYU, which had been in three-way talks with ESPN and the WAC, would have helped mitigate the impact.
BYU’s move to the WCC could take that conference out of play if UH explores independence. The Big West or WCC, which stretches from San Diego to Spokane, Wash., would be UH’s best options for homes for its 18 other teams should football go independent.
The WCC includes Gonzaga, Loyola Marymount, Pepperdine, Portland, Saint Mary’s, San Diego, San Francisco and Santa Clara.
In the meantime, UH and the WAC might benefit from a scheduling alliance in football whereby BYU plays four to six WAC teams, including UH, each year.