September 2, 2010 in Sports

Blanchette: WAC has that finger-in-the-dike feel to it

By Correspondent
 

When the Idaho Vandals are done hanging their Humanitarian Bowl banner tonight, can they please pass the duct tape to Karl Benson?

The commish needs it to try and keep the Western Athletic Conference together.

Just when the Vandals appear to be on the launching pad of something completely different – a football season worthy of legitimate anticipation, under a charismatic coach who just re-upped on his contract because, gadzooks, he wants to be here – into the Kibbie Dome wafts a familiar mustiness of vague doom and angst.

Another year, another conference crisis.

If it’s routine by now, what’s happened to the WAC – and by extension, Idaho – over the past week or so at least seems significantly more threatening than the many bite marks which have bloodied the Vandals in their 15-year swim with the college athletic sharks.

There is almost nothing left to say about it – which is perhaps why Idaho athletic director Rob Spear decided to say almost nothing on Wednesday, issuing a statement in lieu of taking questions, his message being to focus on “what we can control, which is continuing to improve our athletic programs.”

Then he apparently decided to have a little fun.

“The WAC has been in existence for 48 years,” he composed, “and I’m confident it will be a viable conference over the next 48-plus years.”

Tip: bet the under. Bet the farm.

In a climate that saw the venerable Big 12 a penstroke from oblivion, the rickety WAC can be wiped out by the breeze churned up by a toddler’s tricycle – or the panic of a single college president. To assay the craters left by the summer’s sorties among the BCSaurs and declare the WAC okey-doke for another half century? Why not just promise the boosters a national championship while you’re at it?

The business for the league on Wednesday: more sandbags. Still taking on water from last week’s defection of Nevada and Fresno State, who days before had pledged their undying allegiance, the WAC settled for a miniature version of the bold raid that was going to be its salvation before – a scheduling arrangement with soon-to-be football independent Brigham Young. Except that this agreement is for but two years.

It serves a dual purpose. It replaces for the WAC schools the game lost by Boise State’s earlier escape to the Mountain West Conference after this season, and it gives the WAC needed ammunition in its dispute with Nevada and Fresno over the $5-million penalty for reneging on thick-and-thin part of the vows. There had been a clause in the WAC’s agreement not to bust up the old gang that rendered it null and void if no association with BYU was inked before Wednesday, which presumably indicated to the defectors that they were off the hook.

Now there’s an agreement, if a hobbled one. Benson took great pains to point out that the Cougars put their Joseph Smiths on the dotted line “at 7:30 (Tuesday) night” – before the deadline.

Still, the high-fives around the office couldn’t have been as vigorous as when the WAC thought it had nabbed BYU from the hated Mountaineers.

They weren’t all that vigorous at Idaho. For the Vandals, the BYU deal is half a loaf – a game in Provo, Utah, next year, but the Cougars unwilling to return in 2012.

“It was their demand, so to speak,” Benson said.

Ouch.

BYU did throw in a home-and-home basketball series as a consolation prize. Maybe the Vandals will make them play in Memorial Gym.

Like it or not, BYU’s disdain is something of a hint as to what could befall the Vandals were the WAC to disappear . Benson has appointed the six remaining athletic directors to a “membership committee” to assess expansion candidates, but several are assessing their futures as well. Utah State AD Scott Barnes said Wednesday his school is not ruling out pursuing Mountain West membership. Hawaii has made much noise about going independent, and Louisiana Tech is known to be ogling conference ties that don’t have it traveling over four time zones.

Even if Benson’s meatball surgery keeps the blood pumping, given the recent defections and any future ones who really can the WAC attract? Texas State and Montana? UC Davis? Denver U.?

“There are teams out there that will bring value,” Benson insisted.

That might be a tough sell on campuses like Idaho and Utah State, where they have schlepped around from the Big West to the Sun Belt and now the WAC, chasing the tails of more saleable rivals like Boise State and BYU. Now they cling to the same life boat, back in survival mode.

Pass the duct tape. There seems to be a leak.


There are four comments on this story. Click here to view comments >>

Get stories like this in a free daily email