Tuesday, October 12, 1999
WAC moves on
Expansion will be among theBy Paul Arnett
topics when conference presidents
meet on Sunday
With Texas Christian out and Southern Methodist back in, Western Athletic Conference officials need to devise a plan to address the recent defections over the past 18 months and how to discourage it from happening again.
The league presidents meet this Sunday in Denver to discuss expansion possibilities and ways to deal with TCU remaining a league member until it officially joins Conference USA. WAC commissioner Karl Benson anticipates that TCU will stay in the league through the summer of 2001.
Just who and how many of the nine schools interested in joining the league will be selected is anyone's guess. Some pundits believe if only one team is invited, it will come from the east. The likely contenders are New Mexico State, North Texas, Arkansas State, Louisiana Tech, Louisiana-Lafayette and Louisiana-Monroe.
If the model is of the 10- or 12-team variety, then Boise State is a mortal lock because it brings the Humanitarian Bowl into the fold. Benson favors a 12-team WAC with two divisions, but the presidents have been reluctant to expand that quickly.
Athletic director Hugh Yoshida said he was just glad to get some "closure" to the speculation about a WAC defection.
"We need to get on with our conference and we certainly hope the distraction goes away," said Yoshida. "Everything that's done today in athletics is driven by the bottom line."
Asked if he fears for the future of the WAC, Yoshida said he is concerned, "But if we can be competitive in the field, it will take care of itself," he said. "I think our conference will be fairly stable for the short term. We're looking expansion, though I'm not sure what will happen."
Hawaii head basketball coach Riley Wallace took an upbeat approach.
"I don't think it will affect us or the WAC," said Wallace. "If you had to lose one, TCU is the one you want to lose out of the Dallas area. That's because SMU is a bigger player nationwide."
This past summer, the presidents decided to go to nine teams by inviting Nevada. The Big West Conference school will join the league next year.
"Although the WAC is disappointed that TCU will be joining Conference USA, we're elated SMU will remain with the WAC," Benson said yesterday in a teleconference call. "I was surprised at the TCU-only invitation and acceptance into Conference USA.
"As you know, we've been exploring membership models. But those were all predicated on TCU and SMU departing. We did not believe that this was one of the possibilities. Despite SMU staying, it still doesn't rid the WAC of membership issues. It would behoove us to continue to explore the various models."
Benson had hoped that TCU would be allowed to join Conference USA by next summer, but that doesn't appear possible. It means that TCU will be given its share of the WAC revenues for the 1999-2000 seasons in all sports, but not be eligible for that money the following year.
"From a legal standpoint and corporate standpoint, TCU has membership in the WAC through June 30 of 2001," Benson said. "WAC bylaws were revised to state a financial penalty will be in place. Should that member depart the WAC, it would forfeit all conference revenues as a member."
Hawaii president Ken Mortimer has made strong comments in recent weeks that if a team remained with the WAC that it would take time for a healing process to be completed. But Benson's stance was more forgiving.
"In terms of the relationship between SMU and the rest of the WAC, I would suspect the transition back would be fairly easy," Benson said. "During this past six weeks, both SMU and TCU presidents have gone out of the way to do business in a professional manner. I don't anticipate a difficulty there for SMU. Keeping the Dallas market is a huge plus for the WAC as we continue to try to place ourselves in an attractive position. Dallas was a critical market for us. I'm confident SMU will continue to deliver Dallas to the WAC."
TCU, on the other hand, welcomed its invitation to Conference USA, calling it an investment that would give the school more national prominence.
"Most of our out-of-state students come from the Midwestern corridor of the country, and as a member of C-USA, TCU will gain exposure to an extremely high percentage of the nation's population, the media centers and large urban areas of the Central and Eastern time zones," TCU athletic director Eric Hyman said.
With TCU's invitation to join Conference USA, the Rice Owls, SMU Mustangs and Texas-El Paso Miners are the Texas schools remaining in the disintegrating WAC.
"The decision to join Conference USA is an investment in the future and is consistent with other investments and plans we are making in strengthening the national distinction and prominence of TCU in other areas. I believe also that this move will bring added recognition to Fort Worth as it positions itself among the leading cities of the nation," TCU Chancellor Michael R. Ferrari said in a prepared statement.
Rice University athletic director Bobby May said he was surprised that Conference USA chose TCU but left SMU behind. Nonetheless, he said expansion of the WAC is still a possibility.
"We've already been looking at our options because of what we anticipated might happen so we've got a head start. All I care about is what's best for the WAC and for Rice," May said.
Benson echoed those sentiments.
"We've certainly had our share of disappointments over the last year and a half," Benson said. "Hopefully, we can put this behind us and move forward. It's important the WAC identify and cultivate its members that it can count on in the future."
Pat Bigold and the Associated Press contributed to this report.