WAC's Karl Benson comes out firing

WAC commissioner Karl Benson came out strong Thursday, claiming the Nevada and Fresno State presidents committed a “selfish act” when they went back on an agreement to keep the league together, only to accept an invitation to the Mountain West a few days later.

Benson pointed out that in a 12-hour period the WAC went from a secure and prosperous future to an unknown-at-best future. He said the agreement that was signed by seven of the remaining eight schools was done after a call last Friday in which the schools were given assurances that Brigham Young would join the league in all other sports except football (while agreeing to a scheduling partnership in football). BYU planned on playing Fresno State, Hawaii, Nevada and its traditional rival Utah State outside the WAC.

Benson said a recording error meant that Nevada president Milt Glick didn’t sign the agreement, but that the WAC legal counsel has determined that Glick’s verbal agreement to the binding terms meant the Wolf Pack were bound to the deal. Benson said Glick missed the call on Friday and gave a verbal agreement over the phone Saturday. The deal, which Fresno State president John Welty and the other six schools signed, called for a payment of $5 million if a school left within the next five years. Benson said he has signatures in the WAC office from seven of the eight presidents.

According to Benson, WAC legal counsel expects payment within 60 days, which is part of the agreement. He also said the schools missed the July 1 filing deadline to leave for the MWC for the 2011 season, so he expects Fresno State and Nevada to be in the WAC for two more seasons. Boise State did meet the July 1 deadline for departure and will leave for the 2011 season. That means the WAC would be a nine-team league in 2010, an eight-team league in 2011 and 2012 and then a six-team league in 2013, although that could change if the WAC decided to add new members.

Benson said the remaining WAC schools had a conference call Thursday morning to discuss staying together and all were committed to do so. He said he has reached out to BYU since Fresno State and Nevada left and will continue to have ongoing negotiations to see if it’s still viable for the Cougars to join the remaining WAC schools.

“We hope that there is still an opportunity to structure an arrangement to allow BYU to be a part of the WAC in some shape or form and we’re open to any of those discussions,’’ Benson said.

He added that initial talks with BYU occurred in late July when both parties came together. This was after Boise State had elected to leave the WAC for the MWC.

Benson said the MWC’s new interest in Fresno State and Nevada after deciding against inviting both schools earlier in the summer was a “direct result of BYU’s interest in going independent in football and joining the WAC.’’

He said there’s been an understanding that with Louisiana Tech’s proximity to Conference USA schools in Texas and the Southeast, it would be natural for Louisiana Tech to look at that conference. But now the WAC needs the Bulldogs to stay put in order to remain at six members, a key component in maintaining automatic bids to major sports.

NCAA spokesperson David Worlock told ESPN.com that the WAC will keep its automatic bid to the NCAA tournament if it is a six-team league in 2012. Under NCAA rules, a conference has a two-year grace period to be a six-team league after it loses members. So that means if the WAC is at six teams in 2012-13 and 2013-14, it would have until 2015 to add a seventh member. The other rule is that the remaining six schools have to have been together for five continuous years. If Fresno State and Nevada get out of the WAC after 2010-11, the WAC would have 2012 and 2013 to be a six-team league before needing to add a seventh by 2014.

Benson said the remaining six schools, though, aren’t bound to the agreement since Fresno State and Nevada left. They are free to leave, although for now they have pledged allegiance to stay together and receive the $10 million combined.

Benson said the WAC would look to I-A and I-AA members and mentioned schools like Sacramento State, Cal Poly, UC Davis, Montana, Texas-San Antonio, Denver and Texas State. He said any reports that the WAC was offering invitations to San Diego State and UNLV were inaccurate. He said the addition doesn’t have to be a football-playing member, although the league has had success fostering football programs going from I-AA to I-A (Nevada, Boise State, etc).

Benson said his motives in securing BYU for all sports except football and a scheduling agreement was to secure the future of schools like Hawaii, Fresno State and Nevada. Yet, like in 1998-99 when eight schools split off from the then 16-team WAC to form the MWC, he said there was betrayal involved.

“There are similarities,’’ Benson said. “The role of the college presidents in 1998 in the shadow behind closed doors was a surprise. This had the same element, especially in light of the declared commitment last weekend. There was a similarity in the way this was done.’’