Posted by ESPN.com's Graham Watson
For months there has been speculation that Boise State was entertaining ideas about leaving the Western Athletic Conference and moving to the Mountain West. While neither Boise State nor the Mountain West have explicitly said that the move was going to happen, there have been signs that the two parties are growing closer.
Boise State helped the Mountain West by testifying and supporting the conference's playoff proposal while the WAC as a whole stayed out of the ordeal. During Mountain West media days last week, commissioner Craig Thompson said that his board of directors have been talking about the pros and cons of expansion, but didn't mention a specific team.
Still, it has become all too obvious to WAC commissioner Karl Benson that something might be up.
"It's distracting and disappointing at times, but I think that the interest shown by Boise State for the Mountain West has been done in a upfront manner and that is appreciated," Benson said. "It doesn't make it any less distracting or disappointing, but at least I think I know where some of my membership comes out when it comes to membership options."
Benson knows this scenario all too well. In 1998, eight teams broke off from the 16-team WAC and formed the Mountain West Conference. The defection caught the remaining WAC teams and its commissioner, Benson, off-guard. But Benson said with the media coverage and general talk about Boise State and the Mountain West, he's ready if one of his team decides to leave.
"I'm not losing sleep at night worrying or wondering if or when they'll do it," Benson said. "Just like the WAC analyzes whether a nine-team league is better than a 10-team league, I'm sure the Mountain West has done the same analysis. If and when they decide to add a 10th team, it doesn't necessarily mean that that team would come from the WAC.
"We do have to face the speculation, but I do appreciate that I know where my membership stands. Unlike what happened in the spring of '98."
The potential loss of Boise State isn't the only thing that Benson has found disappointing this offseason. Benson, like the commissioners from the other nonautomatic qualifying conferences, was uneasy about the Mountain West breaking off and challenging the BCS alone. Benson said that he thinks more could be accomplished if the conferences had stuck together. But Benson hopes that the WAC and Mountain West can work together during the next four years to instrument some sort of change that benefits the group, not just one conference.
"Had the group of five been together in some type of reform recommendation, we may have been able to see a change in the access structure in this next four-year cycle," Benson said. "But it didn't occur. Our presidents have gone on record acknowledging the Mountain West's attempt to change the system. Again, they're disappointed that they elected to do it on their own, but acknowledging that reform was needed. And now that the Mountain West's proposal has been dismissed, I could see our presidents working with Mountain West presidents to put forward some change for the future."