Star-Bulletin Sports

Wednesday, July 25, 2001


After a year of changes,
WAC finally stable

Associate head coach George
Lumpkin takes June Jones' place
at the league's football meetings

By Paul Arnett

RENO, Nev. >> League commissioner Karl Benson will spend more time on the golf course and in the casino at this week's meetings than worrying about the state of the Western Athletic Conference.

True, the WAC lost two bowl tie-ins in Hawaii and Alabama, and football showcase Texas Christian. But with the recent addition of Boise State and Louisiana Tech, it appears the ever-changing league will finally stop and catch its breath.

"We're going to come out of all this turmoil in pretty good shape," Benson said. "We have a new TV package with ESPN in football and basketball. And it doesn't appear we're going to have any major changes on the horizon. It's good we can have a summer free of any real strife."

WAC media day began this afternoon minus Hawaii head coach June Jones.

Still recovering from his automobile accident in February, Jones opted to send associate head coach George Lumpkin in his place. It also allows Jones to be at tomorrow's key fund-raiser at Murphy's Bar & Grill.

Lumpkin joined the other nine head coaches at a meeting this afternoon to discuss a variety of issues. The WAC's two postseason venues in 2001 are the Humanitarian Bowl in Boise, Idaho, and the Silicon Valley Football Classic in San Jose, Calif.

The Mobile Bowl decided to drop the WAC after two lackluster games attendance-wise with TCU. The Aloha and Oahu bowls left the 50th state for San Francisco and Seattle, leaving the Warriors hanging in the wind unless they capture the league outright.

Benson said that during the recently completed president meetings, it was discussed whether the league could help bring back a postseason game to Aloha Stadium, perhaps as early as 2002. But that's pretty iffy.

Worse still, Benson didn't want to lose the Mobile Bowl for the WAC teams in the Central time zone (Rice, Southern Methodist and Tulsa). Now, if one of these three teams wins it all, it will be difficult for their fans to travel to a faraway destination.

The media poll will be released later today. It's likely Fresno State will be picked to win it all with Boise State and Texas-El Paso providing the most competition for the talent-laden Bulldogs. Hawaii will likely be picked in the middle of the pack. It could be selected as high as fourth or fifth.

Not that Jones is worried about any of that. He rarely pays attention to the preseason polls. Still, for the Warriors to pull any surprises similar to that of 1999, they will have to improve dramatically on defense and develop a more consistent running game.

Last year, Hawaii struggled on defense, particularly against the run. The Warriors yielded 211 yards on the ground per game, good for only 105th in Division I, and rushed for an average of only 74 yards (109th).

Talented wideout Ashley Lelie is also in Reno this week. If he becomes the breakaway threat Jones predicts he will, the junior could go a long way in making the running game more of a threat by stretching defenses.

The junior walk-on set the school record in 2000 for most receiving touchdowns in a season with 11. He also led the Warriors with 74 receptions for 1,110 yards. He finished 2000 ranked 17th nationally in receptions a game (6.17) and 16th in receiving yards (92.50). He also is only the third player in UH history to break 1,000 receiving yards in a single season.

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