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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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WAC commissioner gets first-hand look at UI

The University of Idaho is continuing its push to join the Western Athletic Conference, and there are growing indications it is making inroads.

WAC commissioner Karl Benson visited Moscow last Thursday to tour the campus and visit with Idaho administrators. Idaho athletic director Rob Spear is scheduled to make a presentation via conference call today to WAC athletic directors, and it’s believed new UI president Tim White will address WAC counterparts at the conference’s board of directors meeting in early June in Half Moon Bay, Calif.

The WAC will probably address expansion issues at those meetings. Idaho has been down this conference alignment road several times only to be disappointed in recent years, so it won’t allow itself the luxury of feeling too optimistic. Still, Idaho’s push and, as importantly, developments elsewhere seem to bode in the Vandals’ favor.

“I feel good about the way things are going,” Spear said. “I think it went well. (Benson) seemed to get more positive as the day went on. We just need to carry this thing through and dispel some of the concerns people have and move forward.”

Benson spent most of Thursday in Moscow. He toured the athletic facilities, took part in a video conference call with White, who is finishing up his duties at Oregon State, and listened to a power point presentation by Spear. After lunch, Benson talked with Idaho coaches, toured the campus and visited with other UI officials.

“The WAC has evaluated the University of Idaho the last four years,” said Benson, whose brother and mother live in Lewiston. “We’ve done our homework in the past and we’re continuing to do our homework. Idaho extended an invitation to tour the campus and, as part of our process, it was an appropriate exchange of information.”

The WAC, which will be down to eight schools for the 2005-06 sports season, could stand still, but most expect it will add at least one new member. A nine-team model appears to be the most discussed option since it makes for convenient football scheduling (4 home games, 4 away).

Benson seems to favor nine teams, but said he won’t have a vote in the decision. During WAC meetings last month, Benson told several newspapers that Idaho, North Texas and Louisiana-Lafayette were under consideration.

Sun Belt commissioner Wright Waters said Monday that North Texas and Louisiana-Lafayette have resisted WAC overtures and are staying put. The WAC viewed those two schools as potential travel partners for Louisiana Tech, which will be the only school in the Central Time Zone left in the WAC.

Benson wouldn’t comment on North Texas or Louisiana-Lafayette, or whether he visited either school. Waters wasn’t sure if Benson had on-campus visits at the two schools, but “he was on the phone with them hard. They’ve all told him no.”

North Texas athletic director Rick Villerreal didn’t return a phone message Monday.

Asked if other Sun Belt schools, aside from Idaho, are under WAC consideration, Waters said “they’ve all told him no.”

“I think it’s going to work out good,” Waters said. “I think the WAC is going to be better and we’re going to be better.”

Among options the WAC might be considering is adding a football-only member.

Spear said Idaho’s presentation to Benson was comprehensive, with heavy emphasis on academics and athletics.

“I talked about traveling to Moscow, which really seems to be a holdup,” Spear said. “I don’t know about other towns (in the WAC), but we have three (airport) options here – Spokane, Lewiston and Moscow-Pullman.”

Benson said he was impressed with Idaho’s new weight room, the biggest athletic facility upgrade recently. A project to install FieldTurf on the east end practice field near the Kibbie Dome has been put on hold, though funding has been secured, as the UI campus deals with budget shortfalls.

“My responsibility is to provide information so our board of directors can make the best decision for the WAC,” Benson said.

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