MOSCOW, Idaho – Over the past year, as nearly half of the Western Athletic Conference’s membership opted to flee for the Mountain West, the University of Idaho has hoped to find new Western rivals that also fit the conference’s needs.
After Tuesday, consider a part of that mission complete.
The WAC announced that Seattle University will join the league in July 2012 as a non-football playing member. The Redhawks have been an independent since returning to the NCAA’s top division in 2009.
Seattle will be the Vandals’ closest geographic league foe starting next fall and will help Idaho tap into its extensive Seattle-area alumni base.
“I think it’s a great addition for our conference,” UI athletic director Rob Spear said. “It fits the academic profile of the WAC, solves the WAC’s multisport conference issues and it’s a great market for the WAC, especially the University of Idaho.”
Seattle joins the University of Denver as new WAC members that don’t field football teams. Texas State and the University of Texas-San Antonio will also come aboard next year, as Nevada, Fresno State and Hawaii leave.
Last June, Boise State triggered the WAC’s latest round of realignment when it announced its departure for the MWC.
The addition of Seattle gives the WAC nine full-time members in 2012-13. League commissioner Karl Benson said having only seven football-playing schools is “not an ideal model” and another round of expansion is likely within a year.
The San Jose Mercury News reported Tuesday that the WAC is eyeing eight schools as possibilities for two or three open spots. Montana, Montana State, North Texas, Lamar, Sam Houston State, Cal Poly, Sacramento State, and Louisiana-Lafayette are reportedly on the list.
“We have to solve our football issue,” Spear said, “and we’re working diligently on solving that. We’ll continue to do so.”
Starting in 2012, the WAC will have just one bowl tie-in – with the Humanitarian Bowl in Boise – after holding three tie-ins this fall. Backup bowl agreements are possible for other eligible teams, Spear said, but he noted that the league’s postseason arrangement is one of several football-related concerns.
For men’s basketball, though, Seattle is an ideal new partner. It sits in the nation’s 15th largest media market and has a lease agreement with KeyArena, the former home of the SuperSonics.
The WAC men’s and women’s basketball tournaments will again be at Las Vegas’ Orleans Arena next spring. Beyond that, Benson said KeyArena will be looked at as a potential site for the events.
Don Verlin and Jon Newlee, the Vandal basketball coaches, would no doubt welcome that development.
“Having another Northwest school in the conference will do nothing but help us,” Verlin said. “The kids we recruit from that area will get to go home to play a conference game every year.”
Spear said the Kibbie Dome’s major renovation could be finished by Aug. 5, with the final football scrimmage set for inside the revamped facility on Aug. 19. É Idaho and Boise State are making progress on a neutral site basketball game, Spear said. As for renewing the football rivalry with BSU, he said, “It is my expectation that we will schedule that game (in) the future. I don’t have any definite dates, but I hope to get that game scheduled.”