from USA Today
Eight schools set to leave WAC
DENVER - The nation's largest collegiate conference is
on the verge of splitting in half.
Citing the loss of traditional rivalries, rising travel
costs and insufficient revenue growth, eight of the 16 Western Athletic
Conference schools announced plans Tuesday to form their own league.
Air Force, Brigham Young, Colorado State, UNLV, New
Mexico, San Diego State, Utah and Wyoming said they will file their
intentions to leave the WAC before Sept. 1 as required by league bylaws.
They also will ask the NCAA to recognize the new unnamed conference
''You've got a group of eight institutions that are
committed to making a new conference work,'' said Colorado State
president Al Yates, who is also chairman of the WAC board of
directors. 'We've spent most of our time in conversation trying to
respond to the question, 'Is there a way to make this 16-team
conference work?' Our conclusion in all that was that there was
not,'' Yates said.
New Mexico athletic director Rudy Davalos put it more
bluntly. ''The 16-team league was not going to work. It wasn't the fault
of the commissioner or any school. It was just one of those
unmanageable type numbers,'' Davalos said.
The schools not planning to leave the WAC are Fresno
State, Hawaii, Rice, San Jose State, Southern Methodist, Texas
Christian, Texas-El Paso and Tulsa. None were charter members of the
conference when it formed in 1962.
''I obviously knew that there were problems out
there,'' WAC commissioner Karl Benson said. ''Needless to say I was
shocked and surprised, not necessarily surprised that this is what ended
up happening, but I think the timing of it was more surprising.''
Presidents of the defecting schools said they will
honor their 1998-99 athletic schedules and withdraw from the WAC on
June 30, 1999.
''As a charter member of the Western Athletic
Conference, the University of Wyoming does not take this decision
lightly,'' Wyoming president Philip Dubois said. ''We take this step
reluctantly, but in the best long-term interests of our university,
our athletic program and our fans.''
Just last June, the WAC had been granted a spot in
college football's new Super Alliance, providing its conference
champion was ranked sixth or higher in the final poll. The deal stemmed
from BYU's snub after the 1996 season despite a 13-1 record and No. 5
The WAC decision may have thrown that deal into flux.
It certainly caught Super Alliance chairman Roy Kramer off guard.
''It lends itself to some uncertainty,'' said Kramer's
spokesman, Charles Bloom. ''In its 16-team state, the WAC was
guaranteed certain access. Whether that changes, we won't know until
things clear up.''
Founded as a six-team conference in 1962, the WAC
became the nation's largest college league in 1996 when it added
Southwest Conference refugees Rice, TCU, and SMU, former Missouri Valley
Conference member Tulsa and former Big West participants UNLV and San
Jose State. ''Right now we're kind of in a state of shock. We're trying
to regroup and see where everybody is at,'' Tulsa athletic director
Judy MacLeod said.
With Hawaii and the Texas schools separated by about
3,900 miles and four time zones, travel costs were a tremendous
burden for WAC teams. The costs, coupled with lagging revenue and a
proposed realignment that would have separated rivals such as Colorado
State and Air Force,created unrest among the eight defecting schools.
''If you're looking for reasons for today's decision,
they'd definitely have to be linked to the financial impact that 16
schools have had - or the lack of financial impact,'' Benson said. ''My
biggest challenge was to create a financial source that was enough to
satisfy 16 mouths. Obviously we weren't able to do that. ... To give it
two years is unfortunate.''
Benson said the conference generated $12 million in
revenue during the 1997-98 academic year. All television and bowl
contracts could be in jeopardy if the WAC breaks up - a
scenario that Benson sees as most likely.
''It's obviously too soon to be able to accurately
determine what their overall intentions are,'' Benson said of the
defecting schools. ''If they were looking to send a message, it's a
strong message. No one has indicated to me that there's room for
Speculation about some schools leaving intensified May
5 after WAC athletic directors voted 13-3 to split the league into
two permanent divisions.
San Diego State president Stephen Weber said Utah, BYU,
Colorado State, Wyoming and Air Force officials made their final
decision during a meeting Friday at Denver International Airport. San
Diego State, UNLV and New Mexico were then asked to join them.
''Certainly from our point of view, the choice between
whether we would like to play with these folks or the other folks, these
are the people that our fans have more interest in,'' Weber said.
The WAC originally consisted of Arizona, Arizona State,
Wyoming, Brigham Young, Utah and New Mexico. UTEP and Colorado State
were added in 1967, and the landscape remained unchanged until Arizona
and Arizona State left for the Pac-10 in 1978.
San Diego State, Hawaii, Air Force and Fresno State
joined the league from 1978-80, and the conference remained at 10
teams until the 1996 expansion.