BY ILYA PINCHUK — The tables have turned for the Western Athletic Conference. Less than a week ago, the WAC was in good shape. Brigham Young University was on the verge of joining, and word was the Mountain West Conference was breaking apart.
Everything changed Wednesday night. Fresno State and the University of Nevada -Reno are no longer part of the WAC and announced their move to the MWC.
“Fresno State is honored to accept the invitation to join the Mountain West Conference,” Fresno State President John Welty said in a prepared statement Wednesday night. “We look forward to competition against some universities we have not faced previously, and to renewing rivalries with San Diego State, Colorado State and several other schools that we enjoyed previously.”
The implications are huge — with Nevada and Fresno out of the WAC, the conference would be left with only six teams.
Idaho Athletic Director Rob Spear said the university was upset by the news, but was prepared for any possibility.
“We are obviously disappointed, but we’ve positioned the University of Idaho to be competitive and strong in a realigned conference,” Spear said. “The University of Idaho remains committed to the WAC.”
With the departure of three teams, the WAC is suffering a serious lack of competitiveness.
The best program in the WAC is now Idaho, which is the only program to win more games than they lost.
8-5. The best.
It doesn’t help the WAC’s recruiting chances that both schools turned away from the WAC less than a week after signing a contract, which penalizes a university $5 million should they choose to leave the conference.
The messege sent is clear – it’s better to take a debilitating $5 million penalty than stay in the WAC.
University of Hawaii Athletic Director Jim Donovan was one of the first to respond, holding a press conference in the dying hours of Wednesday night and expressing his displeasure with the moves, as well as some hard truth about college sports and their relationships to the universities.
“There’s really no way to put a positive spin on it — I’m very disappointed,” Donovan said. “Institutions are now doing what is in their own best interest.”
Donovan’s comments mirror the words spoken by Nevada president Milt Glick as he announced Nevada’s ascension to the MWC.
“We have had a great experience in the WAC. We have appreciated the strong competition and the wonderful colleagues.” Glick said. “The offer to join the Mountain West Conference is an opportunity we cannot turn down. The Mountain West is a strong conference and this will enhance our natural rivalry with UNLV and continue our rivalry with Boise State. We believe joining this conference is in the best long-term interests of our fans and program.”
The irony of the situation is bitter.
Just days ago, there was talk of MWC’s collapse, as the conference lost the powerhouse the University of Utah, who jumped ship for the Pac-12, and was almost certain to lose BYU, who planned on going independent in football. There was even talk that BSU’s bid had been retracted.
With the tables turned, the fate of BYU is in the air.
“We were aware that BYU was looking at going independent (in football) and moving their other sports in the Western Athletic Conference,” Donovan said. “Up and through today, our understanding was that BYU was going to continue through with that process.”
Sensing the ship taking on water, Donovan said while Hawaii has no plans to leave the WAC, the door is always open.
“We are going to look and see what our best options are and we will start figuring out in what directions we should be going in,” Donovan said.
Rumors are circulating that the MWC, which will have 11 teams, will extend an offer to one more school, potentially Hawaii, to round out its numbers. Should Hawaii decided to follow suit, it could very well be the last nail in the coffin of the WAC.