Saturday, June 5, 1999
for WAC presidents
They meet next weekBy Paul Arnett
to chart a course for
the revamped league
Setting a proper course for the Western Athletic Conference is the goal for the eight university presidents, who meet next week in California.
The major topics of discussion are expansion, a television contract with the Fox Network, determining which city will host the men's and women's basketball tournaments for the next several seasons and whether the WAC will sue the eight schools that left to form the new Mountain West Conference.
"If we're going to seek legal action we have to make that determination rather quickly," UH president Ken Mortimer said. "I'm not sure how that's going to play out. We have to be able to prove that damages have occurred as a result of the eight schools leaving."
While a lawsuit was a popular idea a year ago after the Mountain West schools announced their intention of leaving the league, these days, some of the WAC presidents are reluctant to take the matter to court. In their minds, it would better serve the conference to look to the future, rather than the past.
"We have a lot of issues that need to be resolved and soon," WAC commissioner Karl Benson said. "We need to discuss expansion and settle on a site for our league championships in basketball."
The three cities recommended by the athletic directors at their meetings last month are Fresno, Calif., Tulsa, Okla., and Dallas. At this point, the leading contender is Fresno State. Honolulu was one of six cities considered, but distance and time difference worked against Hawaii being the host site.
"I thought we put together a very competitive package," Mortimer said. "It would have been good for us had we won the bid."
It's believed the television package for football and men's basketball being offered by Fox is not nearly as good as the seven-year, $47-million deal the Mountain West schools secured with ESPN.
UH athletic director Hugh Yoshida said earlier this week that ESPN would like to televise Hawaii's opener in football with Southern California. In fact, network officials asked Yoshida if the game could be moved to Friday. But all of that would be moot if the conference lands a deal with Fox.
"I know ESPN offered a similar deal to TCU to televise some of its games," Benson said. "But if we go with Fox, then the member schools can't work out their own deals with any other network."
As for expansion, Mortimer believes the presidents will only want to add one or two teams. The leading contenders are the University of Nevada and Boise State.
Benson believes those two schools should be added, as well as Utah State and New Mexico State. He envisions the league being divided into two six-team divisions.
"This is an important time for us," Benson said. "What we decide this week could shape the league for years to come."