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Star-Bulletin Sports

Thursday, June 8, 2000

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

WAC to stay at
10 teams; Benson’s
pact extended

By Pat Bigold


Western Athletic Conference officials laid to rest two burning questions yesterday.

Bullet The league will not expand beyond a 10-team conference for the foreseeable future.

Bullet Commissioner Karl Benson will remain for another five years.

In a media teleconference from the site of the Council of Presidents meeting in South Lake Tahoe, Nev., University of Hawaii president Kenneth Mortimer, chairman of the WAC Board of Directors, said the conference is comfortable with its plan to become a 10-school league by 2001.

The University of Nevada will join the WAC this coming school year, making it a nine-team conference. In 2001-2002 when Texas Christian leaves for Conference USA, Boise State and Louisiana Tech come into the WAC, forming a 10-team league.

Utah State and New Mexico State were reportedly favored by commissioner Karl Benson to make the WAC a 12-team conference which could then be split into two six-team divisions.

"We don't anticipate any expansion in the near future," said Mortimer. "We're very happy with where we are with the 10."

Mortimer also announced that the WAC has extended Benson's contract to five years. Coming into the meetings, Benson's contract was due to expire June 30, 2003.

That seems to end speculation that Benson, 48, might move on to another conference or take the vacant Washington State athletic director's job.

"The Council of Presidents is committing to Karl Benson as commissioner of the WAC," said Mortimer. "We hope that Karl's committed to us."

No details of the contract extension were announced.

It was also announced yesterday during the conference call that the WAC men's basketball champion will receive an automatic berth to the NCAA tournament next season. There was no automatic berth last season.

Benson responded to a question about the Bowl Championship Series inviting the fledgling Mountain West Conference this week to sit in on discussions and meetings over the next six years while the WAC was ignored.

The MWC, composed of the eight teams which broke away from the WAC, joins Conference USA as a non-voting member of the BCS panel.

Three years ago, the 16-team WAC and Conference USA were given limited membership in the BCS.

"But when the WAC went through its membership changes, it triggered contractual language in our arrangement with the BCS that allowed them to disenfranchise us from that arrangement," said Benson.

"During the course of the past year, the BCS evaluated both the WAC and the Mountain West to determine whether we would be invited back."

Benson said the BCS expressed concern about the membership of the WAC when it made the evaluation.

"We were disappointed that they came to the conclusion that the WAC at this stage would not receive an invitation," he said.

But Benson said the WAC's exclusion from talks doesn't change the access to the BCS.

"It's the same as the Mountain West or Conference USA," he said. "The amount of financial gain we receive, which is $100,000 per member school, is the same as the Mountain West and Conference USA.

"I believe quite strongly that now that we know that the WAC is a 10-team league, we will perform on the field to the point where we will regain our status."

Benson said he's happy that the WAC has a guaranteed three-bowl arrangement and "quite possibly a fourth with an arrangement between the University of Hawaii and Bowl Games of Hawaii."

"That means the WAC will be a player in postseason and that will be an important ingredient in how we are compared and evaluated against the Mountain West and Conference USA," said Benson.

The bowl games committed to the WAC are the Silicon Valley Classic, the Mobile Alabama Bowl, and Humanitarian Bowl.

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