MOSCOW, Idaho – It will be at least another month until the Western Athletic Conference announces its expansion plans. But Idaho athletic director Rob Spear has already made his feelings known – both to fellow conference members and the media – about which schools the WAC should pursue.
Spear said Thursday that it’s critical, with the conference losing four members by July 2012, for the WAC to find more football-playing schools in the West. If he had his druthers, Montana and Montana State would move up to the FBS and join the WAC.
“I like the Montana schools,” Spear said. “I think it’s important that the University of Idaho finds a rival. We absolutely have to have that. We had an unbelievable rivalry when we both participated as Big Sky Conference members, and I think it would be a great situation for those schools to consider moving into the FBS.”
The WAC has already added Texas State, Texas-San Antonio and the University of Denver. The three schools will come on board next summer, and all but Denver will participate in football.
That leaves the WAC with seven football-playing schools, one short of meeting the NCAA requirement. The NCAA also mandates every conference have six members that sponsor at least six men’s and women’s sports.
The WAC only has five schools that fulfill the multisport requirement on the men’s side.
“We can either add an affiliate member or look to add another institution into the WAC,” Spear said.
The conference is expected to make an announcement on expansion on June 14 after its board of directors meeting. One long-rumored addition as an affiliate member is Seattle University – a move Spear said he favors.
Yet he’s also focused on making the WAC attractive for the Montana schools. Both have rebuffed the WAC in the past, but Spear said it’s important “to court them and make sure that we are going to help their athletic programs grow and allow them to be … perceived differently in how they are aligned with peer institutions, even on the academic side.”
Boise State, the Vandals’ chief rival, has left to play in the Mountain West. Nevada, Fresno State and Hawaii are following BSU’s lead next year.
Spear said the conference reshuffling has made scheduling tricky, particularly with football.
Spear has had no conversations with Boise State about renewing the rivalry – the earliest the teams could play looks to be 2013. His talks with Washington State athletic director Bill Moos haven’t led to an agreement on future football games with the Cougars. One factor holding up the negotiations with WSU is the Pac-12’s apparent insistence on its schools playing all nonconference games in the first three or four weeks of the season, Spear said.
“We have already scheduled out the first four weeks of the season through 2014,” he said, “so finding that window of opportunity to get them back on the schedule is dependent on them being able to get a waiver or get permission to schedule outside that first three- or four-week window.”
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