WAC teams cautious with next move

August, 24, 2010

Hawaii has talked to the Big West about adding all its sports -- save football -- to the California-based conference, but it will only happen if the Warriors decide to go independent in football.

That's according to a source with direct knowledge of the situation. The move to the Big West would make sense for men's and women's basketball and certainly for softball, baseball and volleyball, where the addition of Hawaii would give the Big West the needed six members for an automatic berth.

The Big West tournament is moving to the Honda Center, the home of the NHL's Anaheim Ducks, in 2011. Hawaii's women's sports programs were in the Big West from 1984-96. So there is history.

But is it doable, and is it necessary, and why is this going on in the first place?

Going independent in football isn't a foreign concept for Hawaii. Former coach June Jones floated the idea in 2004. But the economy was better then and teams were playing only 11 games, so playing a 12th game when a team goes to Hawaii had some benefits.

Now, with teams already playing 12 games, going for a 13th game may not be as much of a selling point. Hawaii football may have to play eight road games in a given year, and the Warriors would hardly like to do that nor would it make sense economically for the program.

Hawaii wouldn't be considering this if Fresno State and Nevada didn't leave the WAC for the MWC (effective in 2012) last week. According to sources, those moves, despite what MWC commissioner Craig Thompson is saying, may not have occurred had BYU not entertained being a football independent. And that might not have been broached had Utah not been plucked to go to the Pac-10. And that only happened because Texas turned down the Pac-10, and because of that decision, so did at least four other Big 12 schools.

One of the sticking points for BYU is that the Cougars are still dealing with limitations on their own HD Network, BYUtv. Homes games not selected by the MTN or CBS College Sports aren't allowed to be on BYUtv. That means two marquee home nonconference basketball games -- against Fresno State (and former BYU coach Steve Cleveland) on Nov. 12 and former WAC rival UTEP Dec. 23 -- won't be on television. Games against Hawaii (Dec. 4) and Arizona (Dec. 11) are only on BYUtv because the games are in the Utah Jazz arena in Salt Lake City and are not considered true home games. And BYUtv is putting on two games at the Marriott Center against Chicago State and Mississippi Valley State Nov. 20 and 23 because those games are part of the South Padre Island tournament. The HD BYUtv truck will travel to Glens Falls, N.Y., to televise the Vermont-BYU game Dec. 8 in a home game for senior guard Jimmer Fredette.

So, as BYU waits to see if it can resolve the issue with BYUtv and waits to decide if it wants to be a member of the MWC in 2011 before a Sept. 1 deadline (or still go to the WAC or WCC in all sports except football), there are still moves to be made.

The shuffling between the MWC and the WAC may not move the BCS meter one bit for an automatic berth for the MWC. What it has done is possibly crushed the WAC in football, basketball and other sports.

And that's why Utah State athletic director Scott Barnes, like Hawaii athletic director Jim Donovan, is pausing on the severity of the next move.

Barnes put out a statement last week explaining that Utah State was the first of three schools which received an inquiry of interest from the MWC but declined because it signed a binding $5 million buyout that it wouldn't split from the WAC within five years.

WAC commissioner Karl Benson said once Fresno State and Nevada broke the agreement, the rest of the six schools were no longer bound to the agreement.

Barnes said Monday that Utah State has to look at all options but that the MWC has not issued a new inquiry of interest.

Utah State hasn't reached out to the WCC or the Big West. The WCC has made it clear it is not going to take public colleges or universities because its membership is made up only of church-based private schools. The Big West, according to a source with direct knowledge, has heard only from Hawaii and not the other remaining five WAC schools (Utah State, New Mexico State, Idaho, San Jose State or Louisiana Tech).

"We can't panic,'' Barnes said. "We can't make a hasty decision. We have to make the right decision because what we do could affect the WAC for the next 10 years.''

Barnes said if the WAC was to bring in other schools, like UT-San Antonio or Texas State or North Texas, it would revisit another binding agreement. Clearly, those schools need to know what they might be joining. Barnes is a new member of the NCAA tournament men's basketball selection committee. He knows he can't put Utah State in any situation where the men's basketball program doesn't have a chance to earn an automatic bid to the NCAAs.

A six-team WAC won't lose its AQ for two years after it drops below seven teams (at the minimum 2012 and '13) but must add a seventh team three years after (for 2014).

Regardless of what Hawaii, Utah State and other schools decide, the question that is asked by observers within the NCAA membership is what was it for? Adding Nebraska makes sense if the Big Ten wanted to be at 12 and the Cornhuskers are still within the footprint of the league. But the rest of the moves are lateral and don't really mean much more than possibly getting rid of a conference that has had a long history in the NCAA.

"What's important here is to make a rationale decision,'' Barnes said. "Our mission is to educate the student-athlete and win championships.''

If that's the mission, then why even move conferences in the first place?

• Keep an eye on what happens with two schools/programs and their powerful athletic directors. Texas-San Antonio athletic director Lynn Hickey, a member of the men's basketball selection committee, has a new Division I football program and the Alamodome to sell. That's in addition to a Texas market that could be tantalizing for the WAC. Meanwhile, Charlotte athletic director Judy Rose has a football program that is going to Division I in an area where football is popular. The 49ers might be a possible realignment team if there is movement within C-USA to go back to its former home.

• In a few weeks, the selection committee will discuss when and where the "First Four" games will be played. The committee has to decide how it will spread out the four games -- two games between the last four at-large schools for a seed line like an 11 or 12 and two games between the last four AQs for two of the 16 seed lines. The games will likely be in Dayton, but the question is will all four games be on Tuesday or two on Tuesday and two on Wednesday (evening or afternoon)? And will the games be split up with one AQ and at-large game on each day or the AQs one day and the at-large teams another? The NCAA is going through a new television mockup with four different networks to serve (CBS, TBS, TNT and Trutv) and all the games on simultaneously.

Andy Katz | email

ESPN Senior Writer


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