Before rumors get out of control, Western Athletic Conference Commissioner Karl Benson wants to put an end to some.
Benson held a conference call Monday afternoon to address some false reports, assure media the league is not in trouble of losing automatic qualification status in the NCAA and "clarify" some reports that have been published. With Hawaii looking to leave the league, many have questioned what the future is for the WAC.
Boise State is leaving after the 2010-11 season, with Nevada and Fresno State set to depart the conference after the 2011-12 academic year. Hawaii announced last Thursday it was in discussions with the Mountain West Conference.
If the Warriors get an invitation from the MWC, they will be playing football only in the league. Hawaii is hoping to take its other sports to the Big West Conference, which is made up of schools from California. Travel cost has a lot to do with the Warriors looking to get out of the WAC.
Benson met with MWC Commissioner Craig Thompson a week ago during BCS meetings in Dallas and was made aware the Mountain West does have interest in Hawaii football. Big West Commissioner Dennis Farrell and Benson have also talked, and Farrell confirmed the Big West is interested in Hawaii's other sports. The Big West schools do not play football.
"I conducted a conference call last Thursday afternoon with the WAC membership committee to update them," Benson said. "Jim Donovan, the Hawaii athletic director, was not available for the call and did not participate. ... The five ADs agreed to a Hawaii football only membership in the WAC and agreed to go back to their respective presidents with the recommendation to extend this offer to the University of Hawaii. However, a few hours later Hawaii announced it was in negotiations with the Mountain West Conference."
Late Thursday night Benson did talk with Donovan and told him the WAC would allow the Warriors to play just football in the league. The WAC commissioner is meeting with Donovan today in Las Vegas, site of the league's volleyball tournament.
"Our main focus is to keep Hawaii in the WAC," Benson said.
After explaining his efforts to persuade Hawaii to stay in the WAC, Benson wanted to set some reports straight.
"The WAC expects to have a minimum of eight members on July 1, 2012," Benson said. "Seven football playing members, along with the University of Denver. This is assuming that Hawaii were to join the Mountain West. We will aggressively pursue another football-playing school, and we'll also consider non-football playing members for the future.
"If the WAC drops to seven football-playing schools, our membership in the BCS is not jeopardized in any manor. The BCS does not require any minimum number of members. ... What I'm trying to clarify today is some of the reports of our automatics being in jeopardy, just is not true."
A current proposal that will change automatic qualification (AQ) in other sports has already been approved by the NCAA leadership council and the NCAA board of directors will be up for a final vote in January. Benson expects it to be adopted.
"None of the WAC's AQ's, including the men's basketball championship, will be threatened should Hawaii depart the WAC," Benson said. "If the WAC does drop to seven football-playing schools, yes, the WAC will lose its status as an FBS conference in the NCAA structure, but that does not jeopardize any of the seven schools playing football bowls."
The league could lose representation on the NCAA board of directors and other NCAA committees, but could still compete with seven "full" members. The new proposal would eliminate a continuity clause. A conference must have seven members that have been Division I schools for eight years. The WAC would qualify with the seven members it would have in 2012.
The commissioner is trying to help the league's members by explaining this, as some have already started facing negative recruiting.
Benson has been busy since announcing two weeks ago the addition of Texas State, Texas-San Antonio and the University of Denver. Denver does not play football. The commissioner said UC Davis had been contacted, but was not interested right now. After informing the Sun Belt Conference of interest in North Texas, that school was contacted by the WAC and is currently looking at their options.
Benson also brought up the possibility of TCU joining the WAC for all sports except football, should the Big East invite the Horned Frogs to join in football.
Seattle University is another school that could become a member of the WAC, but does not carry football.
As far as bowl games, the WAC still has a deal with the Humanitarian Bowl, but the deal with the New Mexico Bowl has been terminated. The Hawaii Bowl will most likely follow Hawaii. Benson is communicating with the Poinsettia Bowl and Kraft Hunger Bowl.
For Utah State head football coach Gary Andersen, all the change translates into opportunity.
"It's a window of opportunity for all the programs remaining, and I believe it will be a very competitive conference," Andersen said. "I think the new teams that we're adding will add a different dynamic, and it's helpful for us. From a recruiting standpoint, with us going into Texas and Florida as much as we are, I think it helps us in the recruiting area."