Full-Court Press

By Paul Arnett

Friday, September 10, 1999

Who’s left in
Conference You No Stay?

SO, here we go again. Teams are jumping from the good ship Western Athletic Conference faster than the rats off the sinking vessels of the Spanish Armada 400 years ago.

Just when league commissioner Karl Benson thought it was safe to get back in the water, he not only discovered Texas Christian, Southern Methodist and Fresno State paddling for their lives, the lifeguard on the beach is none other than Hawaii's own Ken Mortimer.

Isn't the Rainbows' president the key reason the WAC got into this shape to begin with five years ago? Wasn't he the head of the WAC council during the ill-advised vote to expand to 16?

No wonder not enough WAC teams voted to sue their Mountain West counterparts, something Mortimer has pushed the past 15 months. Three of the teams want out and Tulsa might make it a foursome if the right conference comes along.

Wouldn't it be ironic if Mortimer called a vote to see who wants to stay and who wants to go during next week's conference call, and he casts the only ballot to remain in a league that has become a laughingstock?

Pundits nationwide didn't think it was a good idea when the WAC expanded to 16 teams. Bigger isn't always better, after all. The league's press corps knew it was destined for failure when the normally reserved LaVell Edwards questioned the validity of expansion. When the BYU head coach talks, the presidents should listen.

They didn't. And now everyone is paying, perhaps Hawaii most of all. The Rainbows are like Richard Gere in "An Officer and a Gentleman;" they have nowhere else to go.

BENSON announced a list of possible replacements for TCU and SMU should the Metroplex universities decide Conference USA is the place to be. He might want to ask the Fox Network if any of the schools is worth having before a vote is taken.

After all, possible candidates Arkansas State, Idaho, Boise State, Utah State, New Mexico State, North Texas, Northeast Louisiana, Southwest Louisiana and Louisiana Tech don't have as many TV sets combined as Dallas-Fort Worth. The chance that any of these teams would ever be considered for the Bowl Championship Series is as likely as the Pac-10 extending an invitation to Hawaii.

Benson said last spring that it would be best if the Rainbows kept their options open, just in case a majority of the WAC teams decided destination Honolulu was too far off the map.

IT'S tough to say what kind of budgets any of these programs has, but it's unlikely they can afford to come to paradise several times a year.

Benson is pushing his idea of expanding to 12 teams, something the presidents ignored in the spring. They opted for Nevada and that was it.

Should SMU and TCU leave to lower the number of teams to six -- Nevada isn't in yet -- and Fresno State and Tulsa follow suit, then maybe adding several teams is correct.

But one thing is certain. The WAC of five years ago carried a lot more charisma than the WAC of today. Take out two of the Texas teams and add someone from the Big West, and most folks will say, "Big deal."

Mortimer claimed from the outset of the split that the WAC will remain a viable league. He has championed the current eight teams. And he has told us that he was through with those who left the WAC behind.

What he says now should be considered carefully. The WAC is dead. And what's next doesn't really matter.

Paul Arnett has been covering sports
for the Star-Bulletin since 1990.

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