Fresno State and Nevada will stay in the WAC through June 30, 2012, in a resolution reached with the league announced Thursday, dealing a blow to the Mountain West in its bid to become an automatic-qualifying conference.
Why? Fresno State and Nevada wanted to join the Mountain West in time for the 2011-12 season, which would have given the conference 10 members and allowed it to count their records and BCS finishes toward AQ status. The current four-year evaluation process will be made according to league membership as of Dec. 4, 2011. That means the accomplishments of Fresno State and Nevada will not count for the MWC.
The Mountain West will gain Boise State for the 2011 season, but is losing Utah and BYU. The loss of the Cougars is a blow to AQ status as well because the Mountain West will not have Fresno State and Nevada in the fold in time. But none of this necessarily means the Mountain West has no shot at becoming an automatic qualifier. If the conference falls short of the three guidelines set out in the BCS handbook, it can apply to the Presidential Oversight Committee for an exemption if it meets certain criteria.
The settlement between Fresno State, Nevada and the WAC ends an ugly breakup that began when Fresno State and Nevada decided to jump to the Mountain West in August. The WAC filed a lawsuit against both schools, hoping to collect a $5 million exit fee from each and force them to stay through 2011-12 because they failed to meet the July 1 deadline for giving notice. Boise State had met that deadline, and that is why the Broncos are free to leave for 2011.
Just before Fresno State and Nevada bolted, all WAC members had agreed to a $5 million exit penalty to try to keep WAC membership intact. This was around the same time the WAC was in discussions with BYU to join as a member in all sports but football. When Fresno State and Nevada decided to leave, negotiations with BYU fell apart. Now the Cougars are going independent in football.
As part of the resolution, Fresno State and Nevada owe $900,000 each in an exit fee, drastically reduced from the $5 million the WAC wanted. This allows the WAC to continue on as an eight-member conference while it works on inviting other teams into the fold to cover its losses. Montana, UT-San Antonio and Texas State are considered the front-runners for two spots as football members. The WAC is also looking at Denver and Seattle as non-football members.