August 19, 2010
Wednesday morning: Word leaks that BYU is planning to bail on the Mountain West in 2011, taking its football program independent and fleeing to the sanctuary of the WAC in non-gridiron sports. By all appearances, WAC commissioner Karl Benson has pulled a coup. Wednesday night: Fresno State and Nevada do not hesitate to accept invitations to defect to the Mountain West, leaving the WAC with six full-fledged members and a suddenly grim outlook for survival past next spring. What happened?
By Benson's account this afternoon, Fresno and Nevada essentially stabbed the conference in the back, leaping head-first onto the first train out of town just days after signing a solidarity agreement that laid a stable foundation for BYU's arrival by putting every WAC member on the hook for a steep $5 million exit fee. Well, they almost signed it:
Calling the their actions selfish, Benson said that the two schools torpedoed the WAC when they accepted invitations to join the Mountain West on the heels of Brigham Young working out a deal to go independent in football and join the WAC for other sports.
Benson said that there was solidarity last Friday when seven of his eight schools signed a $5 million buyout. A recording error led ... Nevada to not officially sign the buyout, aimed at discouraging its members not to jump leagues with BYU’s impending move.
Benson said the conference would still pursue the buyouts from both schools.
The case against Fresno, which actually signed on to the buyout clause, should be fairly straightforward; with only an alleged verbal agreement from Nevada instead of a signature, the Wolf Pack stand a better chance of getting out relatively scott-free, despite the confidence of WAC legal counsel. Obviously, the conference BYU thought it was joining no longer exists in recognizable form, and Benson pled officially clueless on the state of their agreement: "At this point, I have no idea what they're going to do. I would hope that the WAC is still an option for BYU and that no door has been closed."
Who does know what BYU is going to do? Not Mountain West commissioner Craig Thompson, apparently, who said Wednesday night that he didn't know "what BYU's intentions were, or are." And if there have been any decisions made in Provo, they're not saying what they are. At this point, the Cougars are equally likely to come back to the Mountain West with their tails between their legs, proceed with the plan to dump non-football sports in the WAC anyway, take a flier on the West Coast Conference (which doesn't host football at all) or declare a two-year mission in the tropics for the entire team, just to give them a little time to sort all this out. They're "exploring all options."
In the meantime, having lost Boise State, Fresno State and Nevada in a span of less than two months, the WAC immediately begins scrambling to add at least two new members to get up to the NCAA's eight-team minimum for I-A/FBS membership. At best, that hunt will turn up an existing I-A/FBS program or two, on the order of UTEP; more likely, a Montana, UC-Davis, Cal Poly, Texas State or UT-San Antonio will have to be called up from the FCS/I-AA ranks. That is, if they're willing to come, and the NCAA is willing to admit them in a higher division. If not, either the WAC folds under lack of interest, or the dominoes in the "mid-major" leagues have only begun to fall.
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Matt Hinton is on Twitter: Follow him @DrSaturday.