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Nevada, Fresno State agree to stay in WAC until 2012

RENO, Nev. – Nevada and Fresno State have agreed to play one more season in the Western Athletic Conference before transferring to the Mountain West Conference in 2012 and will pay significantly less to make the move than the WAC had demanded, the conference said Thursday.

The two schools wanted to make the change next year, but WAC officials filed a lawsuit that said they failed to provide proper notice to leave the conference and would owe the WAC a $5 million departure fee.

WAC Commissioner Karl Benson announced they reached an agreement that allows the schools to make the jump effective June 30, 2012, for a buyout of $900,000 each. That means both of their football and basketball seasons will begin in the Mountain West with the 2012 season.

Benson said the fee was considerably less than what the WAC felt was warranted, but the conference decided to settle the dispute rather than risk being tied up in court for several more months.

He told reporters during a teleconference that the conference can move forward with scheduling for 2012.

Nevada and Fresno State announced in July that they had accepted invitations to follow fellow WAC member Boise State to the Mountain West. Boise starts play there next season and both Nevada and Fresno State had indicated they wanted to do the same.

Benson said that the premature loss of the two could have left the WAC with only six schools, jeopardizing bowl ties and automatic bids to NCAA tournaments.

“To have allowed Fresno State or Nevada to leave early would have put the WAC at a tremendous disadvantage,” Benson said. “There was substantial financial risk.”

Benson said the three driving financial factors were the conference’s contract with ESPN for football games, potential BCS money and NCAA basketball tournament revenue.

Benson said he expects decisions over the next month regarding the addition of up to five new schools to the WAC in the coming years. He said the WAC is determined to field at least eight teams for football each season. He said they are not considering any schools beyond those already discussed – Montana, Denver, Seattle, Texas State and Texas-San Antonio. It’s been reported that the two Texas schools, both with football programs, are close to being admitted to the WAC.