WAC expected
to add 2 schools

New Mexico State and Utah
State reportedly will join the
Western Athletic Conference

Karl Benson had hoped that rebuilding the Western Athletic Conference after last week's announced defection of three schools would not take long.

The WAC commissioner apparently will get his wish today.

New Mexico State and Utah State will jump from the Sun Belt Conference to the WAC in time for the 2005-06 season, a University of Hawaii official confirmed last night.

"Yes, the two schools are being invited," UH spokesman Jim Manke said.

Manke said he had been told by Peter Englert, chancellor of that UH-Manoa campus, the invitations had been extended but that the official acceptances weren't expected until Monday. The WAC board of directors, which includes Englert, had a teleconference yesterday afternoon.

Benson would "neither confirm nor deny" the invitations when reached at his Colorado home last night by the Star-Bulletin. He did say that the conference wanted to move quickly to find replacements for Rice, Southern Methodist and Tulsa, which will leave for Conference USA in 2005.

An announcement is expected out of the WAC office today. Both schools have announced news conferences for today.

Texas-El Paso athletic director Bob Stull and Utah State president Kermit Hall also confirmed that Utah State and New Mexico State had been invited, according to the Associated Press.

On Monday, the WAC athletic directors met via teleconference, coming up with a list of eight potential new members. The other schools being considered were Sun Belt members Arkansas State, Idaho, Louisiana-Lafayette, Louisiana-Monroe, Middle Tennessee State and North Texas.

Ironically, New Mexico State and Utah State applied to be charter members of the WAC when it formed in 1961 but were not accepted.

Utah State is a member of the Big West in all sports except football. The Aggies were moving their remaining 14 sports to the Sun Belt after this season to comply with full membership.

New Mexico State has 12 sports, all of which compete in the Sun Belt. NMSU would make an ideal travel partner with UTEP; the schools are about 45 miles apart.

"I've said all along that I'd like to see us in the same league," New Mexico State athletic director Brian Faison said during a press conference Tuesday.

An interesting twist to the WAC situation came Tuesday when New Mexico athletic director Rudy Davalos said he'd like UTEP to become a member of the Mountain West Conference. That invitation would hinge on UTEP's ability to create a tie-in between the Sun Bowl and the Mountain West.

"My recommendation would be to add TCU and UTEP -- if the Mountain West goes to 10 schools -- and maybe not even in that order if UTEP could deliver the Sun Bowl," Davalos told the El Paso Times.

The 70-year-old Sun Bowl has contracts for the Pac-10's No. 3 team and the Big Ten's No. 5 team through 2005. The bowl also has a contract with CBS, its TV partner for the past 35 years, through 2006. The bowl has a payout of $1.425 million per team.

Mountain West officials have said they will make a decision about expansion within this academic year.

There are rumors that the WAC could lose Louisiana Tech to either the Sun Belt or C-USA. If that happens, then the league expansion won't include the Central time zone.

"We're not looking at Louisiana Tech leaving," said Benson. "But if that happens, it moves the WAC back into being a western conference.

"I don't consider the three schools leaving as a major blow. It's not going to be a big hit as long as we can replace them with quality schools."

The addition of Utah State and New Mexico State would help men's basketball, according to Hawaii coach Riley Wallace.

"I think New Mexico State should have been in (the WAC) before," he said yesterday. "And Utah State is a good team. Those are the best schools out of the ones they've talked about."

Last year, Utah State was the only team in the country to go undefeated in regular-season conference play and also win its league tournament. The Aggies went 29-6, losing to No. 6 Kansas in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, 64-61.

New Mexico State was 20-9 but received an invitation to neither the NCAA Tournament nor the National Invitation Tournament.

The Star-Bulletin's Jason Kaneshiro contributed to this story.


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