The commissioner of the hanging-by-a-thread Western Athletic Conference held a press conference this afternoon and, suffice to say, was not the least bit pleased with the turn of events over the past 48 hours.
Addressing the decision of Fresno State and Nevada to leave the WAC for the Mountain West Conference, commissioner Karl Benson labeled their actions “selfish” and said that the two schools had “betrayed” the conference.
Benson’s sense of betrayal stemmed from an agreement reached amongst the then eight-school conference a week ago. Last Friday, all of the schools verbally agreed to a $5 million penalty if they left the conference — seven of the eight signed a document, with Nevada being the lone exception; the WAC will still pursue payment — a move that was an attempt to keep the MWC from pilfering the league once BYU came onboard for non-football sports.
That attempt failed miserably as word leaked that BYU was bolting the Mountain West, and that conference made a preemptive strike that began Tuesday morning and ended Wednesday evening with Fresno State and Nevada accepting MWC invitations.
The sense of betrayal, while somewhat understandable, is also a bit misguided and self-serving as Benson and the WAC had been in discussions with BYU since early July about joining the conference in non-football sports if the Cougars decided to become a football independent. Add in the fact that the suggestion of a $5 million penalty came in part from BYU, and any feelings of being “torpedoed” are ludicrous, ridiculous and borderline insane.
Regardless, whether BYU sticks to that month-in-the-making plan remains to be seen; Benson, however, did not sound overly optimistic that BYU would forge ahead and jump to his suddenly-depleted conference.
“It’s open from our end,” Benson said. “At this point, I have no idea what they’re going to do. I would hope that the WAC is still an option for BYU and that no door has been closed. …
“We hope that there is still an opportunity to structure an arrangement that would allow BYU to be part of the WAC in some shape or form.”
As far as the conference’s future, Benson indicated that, with or without BYU, the league would survive. The plan to salvage the WAC has seemingly already commenced, with Benson mentioned Texas-San Antonio, Texas State, UC-Davis, Sacramento State and Cal Poly as possibilities to replace the three departing schools.
Finally, and speaking of the departing schools, Boise State was not affected by this latest round of upheaval and will still join the Mountain West at the end of the 2010-2011 school year. Benson said that the league will attempt to force Fresno State and Nevada to remain through the 2012 school year as they missed the conference’s July 1 deadline for leaving.
If Benson can hold Fresno State and Nevada in the league through the 2011 football season, it would give the conference additional time to find schools to add to get at or above the NCAA-mandated eight teams for football.
While Benson put on a brave, defiant face, his conference is still in dire straits and, even with the additions of some of the schools mentioned, they simply cannot replace the quality of what they lost to the MWC. The WAC suffered immeasurable damage the past two days, and it will likely take a series of miracles — or one big one — to regain any of the immense luster lost this offseason.