Star-Bulletin Sports

Tuesday, October 19, 1999

W E S T E R N _ A T H L E T I C

WAC getting
bigger ...
but better?

UH football coach June Jones and
basketball coach Riley Wallace have
reservations about the newcomers

Staff and wire reports


Hawaii head coach June Jones wasn't exactly enthralled about Louisiana Tech being added to the Western Athletic Conference. After all, if the league goes any farther east, it will have to change its name.

"I have an opinion, but I'm not allowed to voice my opinion," Jones said at yesterday's Quarterback Club luncheon, then smiled.

"I don't really know too much about Louisiana Tech other than it's a hard place for us to get to. We'll just have to see how that all shakes out. I know this, we'll have to take two flights and a bus ride to play there. And I'm not sure why they were in such a hurry to expand."

There were several reasons given by the powers that be for adding two teams - Boise State and Louisiana Tech - to this revolving-door conference.

First, the WAC presidents wanted to be prepared should Southern Methodist eventually join Conference USA, Fresno State shift to the Mountain West and Tulsa look to go elsewhere, as it did a couple of months ago when talk centered on Texas Christian's and SMU's possible departure.

Second, the WAC doesn't have any real ties for postgame possibilities after this season. The league champion is slated for the Las Vegas Bowl to play the No. 2 team from the Mountain West and the Mobile Bowl has the second choice of the WAC vs. the second pick of Conference USA. But these are only one-year deals.

The Silicon Bowl in San Jose, Calif., is slated to join the postseason parade in the year 2000, but the WAC's bowl choices are limited. Enter Boise State - home of the Humanitarian Bowl - and Louisiana Tech, which is only a few miles removed from Shreveport, La., home of the Independence Bowl.

Hawaii basketball coach Riley Wallace said he sees the additions being more beneficial to football than men's basketball. And he has some concerns about travel.

"It's (Louisiana Tech) a long way from here - a long way from everywhere - and those time zones hurt you," said Wallace.

"You can fly from here to Atlanta and back to Shreveport, and then bus one hour. Or you can go from Dallas with a big layover, fly to Shreveport and bus an hour."

Wallace said Louisiana Tech is in a hotbed for football, and several NBA stars hail from that part of Louisiana,including Karl Malone, Robert Parish and Bill Russell.

"It has a strong academic program," said Wallace. "My father-in-law, brother-in-law, and sister-in-law went there and my niece is there.

"Boise? Well, that's a two-hour flight from San Francisco and they have good facilities. The conference brings more to them than they bring to the conference."

The move met with Hawaii president Ken Mortimer's approval.

"We're excited about Boise State coming in because it represents a growing community with enthusiastic support for collegiate athletics," Mortimer said in a press conference yesterday afternoon. "It also gives us differential access to the Humanitarian Bowl.

"We also are excited about Louisiana Tech because it brings a lot of balance to the southwest and the Independence Bowl is located in nearby Shreveport (La.)."

But Wallace said he doesn't believe the Independence Bowl will be a factor for the WAC.

"They use the Southeastern Conference - sixth or seventh team - and Big 12," he said. "Unless one of them didn't qualify, they wouldn't be looking at the WAC."

A week ago, Mortimer's public stance was no expansion would likely take place during this past Sunday's meeting in Colorado.

But the insistence of league commissioner Karl Benson and the recommendation by the athletic directors that expansion needs to take place now, as chairman of the conference's board of directors, Mortimer was willing to reverse his position.

"Early on last week, we were cautious about making any drastic decisions as presidents," Mortimer said. "The athletic directors met last week and were quite unanimous that we needed to expand."

The WAC was forced to deal with this issue once again after Texas Christian bolted for Conference USA last week. That defection came only months after eight teams left to form the Mountain West Conference.

School presidents of the remaining seven schools - plus Nevada, which is joining the WAC next summer - met over the weekend and debated whether the league should have eight, 10 or 12 schools. This is the fourth reconfiguration of the WAC announced this decade.

After going with nine teams from 1980-92, the WAC spent four years with 10 teams and two years with 16. The league has eight members this school year and will go to nine when Nevada joins next year. Losing TCU while adding Boise State and Louisiana Tech will boost the WAC to 10 teams in 2001.

"I'm fundamentally concerned with the media reports that TCU will continue to lobby to have SMU in Conference USA," Mortimer said. "And Fresno State is positioning itself to try to be invited into the Mountain West Conference.

"Now, whether those are true or not, they're certainly a factor to the extent as to whether we're considered a viable option. With the magic number of 10, if we were to have additional problems, we would still be a league of eight."

Boise State, currently in the Big West, will give the WAC five Western teams, joining Fresno State, San Jose State, Nevada and Hawaii.

Louisiana Tech, a football independent and a basketball member of the Sun Belt Conference, will be part of the "eastern" half of the league with Rice, SMU, Tulsa and Texas-El Paso. UTEP is a bit forced into that grouping considering it's in the Mountain time zone, but the link to other Texas schools makes it work.

"We still feel like one of the WAC's greatest attributes will be our geographical diversity," Benson said. "I think we have a great mixture of urban and semi-rural type universities, with some great destinations with Reno and Honolulu."

Some of the expansion candidates not picked included Idaho, New Mexico State, North Texas, Arkansas State and other Louisiana schools.

Boise State already has promised the WAC a spot in the Humanitarian Bowl beginning with the 2000 game, even though it won't join the league until the next year.

"That obviously is part of the membership arrangement with Boise State," Benson said. "With Boise State in the Big West in the year 2000, I think it's logical to assume it would be a WAC vs. Big West game."

Paul Arnett and Pat Bigold contributed to this report.

E-mail to Sports Editor

Text Site Directory:
[News] [Business] [Features] [Sports] [Editorial] [Do It Electric!]
[Classified Ads] [Search] [Subscribe] [Info] [Letter to Editor]
[Stylebook] [Feedback]

© 1999 Honolulu Star-Bulletin