Yesterday’s Western Athletic Conference expansion to what it heralded as "the next generation of the WAC" has not changed the University of Hawaii’s plans to consider other possibilities.
"We will look at all our options, including staying in the WAC," athletic director Jim Donovan said following the conference’s announcement.
The WAC announced it is adding Texas-San Antonio, Texas State and Denver for the 2012-13 school year. Denver will be a non-football addition, bringing the conference to eight football-playing members and nine for men’s and women’s basketball.
They will fill spots left by Boise State, which departs June 30, 2011, and Fresno State and Nevada, which exit June 30, 2012, for the Mountain West Conference.
"The addition of these three schools clearly sends a message that the WAC and its member schools are prepared to move forward to build a ‘new’ WAC," commissioner Karl Benson said in a statement.
That statement could have been partially aimed at UH, the WAC’s longest currently serving member at 32 years. UH has said it will consider a variety of options, including independence in football and tying up with the Big West Conference in other sports. It also is hoping for an offer from the MWC if it adds new members.
A WAC source suggested the conference might be open to allowing UH to be a football-only member, opening the way for its other sports to go to the Big West.
Until the addition of Denver as its first non-football playing member in what will be 50 years, the WAC has required its members to field teams in football, men’s and women’s basketball and women’s volleyball.
Keeping UH became even more important to the WAC yesterday when Montana, which had been considering WAC membership, announced that it will remain in the Big Sky Conference.
Benson has said that eight football-playing members is the minimum the conference would like to have. Should UH or Louisiana Tech — which has Conference USA hopes — depart, the WAC would fall below eight.
Because its football program will not play a game until Sept. 3, 2011, UTSA had hoped to have until 2013 to transition to the WAC in football. But without Montana or additional members, it might not have a choice.
Donovan said the decision by Montana, the most accomplished of the football and basketball teams being considered, would not impact UH’s decision. Donovan said, "We need to look at where the WAC is, where it is going and what the long-term plan is and (then) we’ll look at all of our options."
Seattle University, which had been under consideration as a non-football member, could be reconsidered in the wake of Montana’s rejection. Benson said the Redhawks remain under consideration but gave no timetable for when "phase two" of expansion might be undertaken.
Montana had commissioned a feasibility study. But its new president, Royce Engstrom, said in a release, "In the end, the better course is to stay with the conference we helped establish in 1963 and to continue building on its solid foundation."