May 10, 2011
** Slight correction. In the sixth paragraph, I published that Benson had met with Seattle, Lamar and Utah Valley among other unnamed schools. He wanted me to stress that those schools have merely shown interest. Texas-Arlington was also not on the list. That part has been retracted.
On June 14, at the conclusion of its board of directors meeting, the WAC plans to end all speculation on its conference's expansion and move forward with its new league.
The conference, which has been picked apart by the Mountain West Conference for the past year, is finally ready to put the finishing touches on an expansion plan that has taken some time to perfect.
Despite speculation that Louisiana Tech and New Mexico State were considering a move to the Sun Belt Conference, WAC commissioner Karl Benson said he's confident that his current membership, which includes the two aforementioned schools, San Jose State, Utah State, Denver, Idaho, Texas-San Antonio and Texas State, will be around for the 2012 school year.
"It looks as though the Mountain West isn't going to take any schools and Conference USA is also not going to be a factor and we never even looked at the Sun Belt as a possible conference raiding our schools," WAC commissioner Karl Benson told Dr. Saturday. "Louisiana Tech has been very clear that they are committed to the WAC. If Conference USA calls Louisiana Tech then it's a different story.
"So, I'm confident the eight schools that we're going forward with will all be here on July 1, 2012 when we begin the next generation of the WAC."
Even though several expansion candidates have been bandied about in the media, Benson has tried to keep quiet about his potential targets. However, he did say that he's spoken with Seattle, Lamar and Utah Valley among other unnamed schools. Several schools already given the conference commissioner a presentation of what they bring to the conference and now it's up to the WAC's board to decide which members to accept.
If Seattle and Utah Valley are approved, they would join the conference as non-football members. Lamar does have a football program.
The WAC's current membership has seven football-playing programs. Denver does not have a football team.
"I don't think I've ever said that we want to add four (teams)," Benson said of expansion. "Eventually we would like to get to divisions, but it's not mandatory. On the football side, we certainly think that eight is the minimum and nine makes a lot of sense, as does 10. From a basketball playing standpoint, eight is the minimum and 10 would be the even on the basketball side.
"So, it may be a combination of football and non-football, it may be football only and it may be not football. I think we have to recognize that it's possible that we could be looking at a seven-team football league in 2012. It's certainly not ideal, it's doable, but that's one of the possible outcomes if we're not able to finalize football- playing member here in the next 30 days."
Benson said the board knows the candidates and will spend the next month determining their merits. When the board of directors meeting rolls around on June 13-14 in Park City, Utah, Benson said that will be the hard and fast deadline. Any team that's not announced on June 14 will be out of the mix for 2012.
"I don't think it will be a surprise," Benson said. "I think that we're confident that the eight schools that are already committed to 2012 for a great foundation and a great nucleus and there's great potential for those eight schools both on the football side and the basketball side.
"Now everything else is in the hands of the president and chancellors."
Graham Watson is a regular contributor to Dr. Saturday. Follow her on Twitter: @Yahoo_Graham