Bill Kwon

Sports Watch

By Bill Kwon

Thursday, October 14, 1999

WAC can look
forward to stability

THE death of the Western Athletic Conference has been greatly exaggerated. Of course, it doesn't mean that the WAC can now be taken off life support.

Texas Christian - college football's most promiscuous partner - has gone to bed with its third conference since 1995.

But with Southern Methodist still in the fold, however tenuously, the WAC continues to be viable as ever.

Who knows, though, what the college football landscape will be like in 2001 when ABC and CBS come calling with new TV contracts?

Until then, the WAC and Hawaii can look forward to two years of stability. That will help, considering new-coach June Jones has started to turn the football program around sooner than anticipated.

WAC commissioner Karl Benson was elated that SMU, for whatever reason, is still part of the family.

In anticipation of Conference USA inviting both TCU and SMU, the WAC school presidents had scheduled a meeting Sunday in Denver to address the problem of expansion. Or, in this case, replacing the departing schools.

With only TCU leaving, they might not be in as much of a hurry to talk about expansion, let alone to 12 teams, as Benson would like to see occur.

UH president Kenneth Mortimer isn't enamored of the 12-team concept.

"I don't think there's much support for it," Mortimer said. Expansion isn't urgent. Rather, caution is the sentiment, according to Mortimer.

With Nevada already lined up to join next July, the WAC will still be an eight-team conference despite TCU's defection.

Still, if they don't go to 12 teams, it would behoove the WAC presidents to add at least one more school to replace TCU for the 2001-2002 season, so that balanced home-and-home schedules can continue in football and basketball - the two revenue sports.

Boise State would be my first choice, since it brings to the table a solid athletic program and facilities as well as the Humanitarian Bowl.

I'm also swayed by its geography. The WAC still needs to look westward since the eastern half looks like it can break away any time with the slightest nudge from other conferences.

The best thing about expanding to 12 schools is that it sets up a conference championship playoff in football.

However, bigger hasn't been better as UH and the rest of the WAC have painfully learned.

Expanding to an unwieldy 16 teams in 1996 eventually led to the major fracture of the WAC, when eight schools broke away to form the Mountain West Conference.

THE irony of it is that had the WAC presidents expanded to only 12 teams instead of 16 with the addition of the three Texas schools and Tulsa, UH might still be playing BYU.

By a 5-4 vote (New Mexico was absent), they voted to go to 16 teams. Two of the dissenters, BYU and Utah, eventually led the insurrection to leave the WAC because of it.

"We would have stopped at 12, but both San Jose State and UNLV were on the bubble," said Mortimer, whose vote was the difference.

One can only imagine what might have been if only San Jose State and UNLV had been added back then in the summer of 1995 in that historic meeting in Salt Lake City.

For one thing, TCU wouldn't have had the opportunity to jump ship.

And UH fans would still have an excuse to go to Las Vegas to do some Rainbow-watching and BYU would continue to be Hawaii's nemesis.

Bill Kwon has been writing
about sports for the Star-Bulletin since 1959.

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