WAC Commissioner discusses possible BSU departure

The following is the transcribed press conference conducted by Western Athletic Conference Commissioner Karl Benson with the media on Monday, June 7, to discuss the status of WAC membership. Audio of the press conference is available

<a href=”http://www.wacsports.com/fls/10100/media/audio/KB060710.wav?DB_OEM_ID=10100″>here</a>

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<strong>Opening Statement</strong>

“We scheduled this conference a couple days ago in anticipation of the Mountain West meetings and what we thought would be an invitation to Boise State. That obviously did not occur. This has been a very volatile time over the last 10 days. The amount of media attention and the amount of electronic media reporting over the last 10 days has probably been the most that any of us in the industry have experienced in the last 15 years. It’s been an exciting time, but it’s a very cautious time. It’s a time that every commissioner is making sure that they’re communicating with their membership. The WAC Board of Directors along with the athletic directors met earlier today in Las Vegas for their annual meeting. We found out about the Mountain West decision earlier this morning. We did devote several hours to all the what-ifs that everyone is playing and everyone is trying to speculate on. We are not going to be in a position to do anything, to react, until we know what the landscape will look like in the future.”

<strong>WAC Expansion Plans</strong>

“We’ll we’ve been planning over the course of the last several weeks should something happen and the fact that our end-of-year meetings occurred today, were held in conjunction with the Mountain West meetings. We did dedicate several hours today with the presidents and the athletic directors about the what-ifs. that’s really all everyone is talking about today, all the speculation and what-ifs. The one point that was made today is that despite what happens the WAC has been a very credible and very recognized conference over the last four years and regardless of what changes might occur we are poised to move forward either with our existing membership or with any changes that may occur. With the WAC to continue to have national recognition, national prestige, we expect our teams to play on a big platform.”

<strong>Is Expansion Put on Hold?</strong>

“I expect that there will be movement much sooner than later.”

<strong>Personal Emotions</strong>

“I guess whether I’m fortunate or unfortunate I’ve been down this road several times in the last 10 years. I think that one of the things I’ve tried with our membership is one of balance, let’s not overreact, recognize the possible outcomes, and once we have to make a decision let’s make sure we’re prepared to make those decisions.”

<strong>Will Boise St. end up MWC?</strong>

“I think it’s been pretty well documented that if an invitation comes they will accept. There have been a couple of new twists thrown in here over the last several days that has caused the Mountain West to pause. At some juncture they’ll have to reconvene and decide what direction they want to take. Bob Kuster and Gene Bleymaier were very candid in the room today to express their position on it and I think over the course of the last two or three weeks there has been constant communication with Boise State. No one would have been surprised today if an invitation had come from the Mountain West and Boise State had accepted. Now it’s a matter of whether it comes in the future.

<strong>Potential Replacements</strong>

“Not to be specific, but the pool of possible replacement teams lie within the WAC footprint. We all know the WAC footprint is pretty wide, from Ruston, Louisiana to Honolulu. It includes current FBS, 1-A schools, to aspiring FCS schools, former 1-AA schools. The WAC has had a history of schools, including Boise State, that have come through the 1-AA classification and have excelled in the WAC. That includes the University of Nevada as well. While we would certainly hope that Boise State would elect to stay in the WAC, we have enjoyed their time in the WAC and they have brought a lot of credibility, a lot of recognition to the WAC over the course of the last several years. And vice versa, the WAC has been very, very good to provide Boise State with those types of opportunities. I think that what we’ve seen is that there is always going to be a school, or schools, that is ready to take over as the flagship. It’s not as if the WAC has not had, on the football side, success in the past whether it’s Fresno State, or the University of Hawaii or the University of Nevada or San Jose State or Louisiana Tech or Idaho who have won bowl games over the last five years. We have a great foundation of schools, regardless of the what the Mountain West might do or what Boise State might do, the WAC is going to continue to be a credible and recognized conference.”

<strong>Expand to 10 or 12 teams</strong>

“Again, I think the inventory of possible teams that might be looking for conference membership, whether it’s current 1A FBS schools or aspiring FCS 1-AA schools provides a lot of flexibility for the WAC. I look at this as an opportunity for the WAC to either get better with Boise State staying in the WAC, if they elect to leave there are many options placed before us.”

<strong>Penalty for Decision After July 1?</strong>

“There would be. It is subject to the WAC Board of Directors.”

<strong>What Type of Penalty</strong>

“More on the side of the punitive rather than holding anyone. I think one of the things we have to understand is that we have to respect the fact that if a school has a desire to be a member of another conference that that’s their prerogative and that’s their choice. We just need to make sure it’s done in a time factor and an order that doesn’t cause further damage to the conference. Boise State has brought a lot of media value to the WAC, but on the other hand the other WAC membership has to be protected. It’s a corporation. I think most conferences operate as a non-profit corporation and our presidents serve as the board of directors and they all have fiduciary responsibilities to protect assets, to ensure that there are damages.”

<strong>WAC Looking at Montana, UC Davis, Houston or UTEP?</strong>

“I’m really not going to get specific. I would think all the schools you just mentioned work in the WAC footprint. Whether it’s an advantage of the WAC landscape or a disadvantage, at this juncture it allows us to really take a broad and bold look at schools that are in that Central time zone, Mountain or Pacific time zone.”

<strong>Lobbying Efforts to Keep Boise St?</strong>

“This whole process has been transparent. It has been upfront. I appreciate how we’ve been able to communicate with Bob Kuster and Gene Bleymaier. They’ve made it very clear that their preference would be to be in the Mountain West. On the other hand if it doesn’t work out, if it doesn’t transpire, they would be welcome as continuing members of the WAC and valuable members in the WAC.”

<strong>Expecting a Boise move</strong>

“I think everyone was anticipating and expecting. All the signals that were out there were pointing in a direction that an invitation would come today. With word of the PAC 10/Big 12 merger, it didn’t surprise me that the Mountain West took that pause. This is an unbelievable, volatile period. The poker playing that is going on is unprecedented.”

<strong>List of Teams/Timeline</strong>

“At one end we want to be prepared. We don’t want to jump the gun. We don’t know what the final landscape is going to be. We have a long list of potential members, and yet at the same time the reason the Mountain West didn’t make a decision today is because there are a lot of moving parts. I think that we’re all faced with whether it’s the PAC 10, Big 10, or the Big 12, or Conference USA, every conference has the potential to be impacted by these changes. We all want to be prepared. We’re all doing our due diligence. We are all engaging our respective board of directors. It might be dramatic, it might be slight. But I think we all think there will be some movement that will result in that domino effect.”

<strong>Chance to Add Marque Teams</strong>

“The possibility that there may be schools that weren’t on everyone’s radar screen 10 days ago all of a sudden got on the radar screen. I think it’s one of the reasons the Mountain West decided to take a time out.”

<strong>Process for Adding FCS School</strong>

“There currently is a moratorium in place. The moratorium expires next year at this time. The process for an FCS school to move to FBS would begin a year from now. There would be a one year process where more than likely, if they became a member of the WAC in September 2011, more than likely their games against other WAC competition would not count towards bowl eligibility except for the current one game allowance. In year two of the process their games would count towards FBS bowl qualifying. A team from the FCS would not be eligible for bowl post season until the 2013 season.”

<strong>How Many FCS Schools Has The WAC Looked At</strong>

“I can’t be specific but it’s more than five or six.”

<strong>Changes in Conference Compensation</strong>

“First of all, over the course of the last four or five years the WAC has been one of the most aggressive performance-based conferences in terms of compensating their successful teams. As far as Boise State and Hawaii and their participation in the BCS, they have received proportionately more than schools from other conferences. We have been very aggressive in the past in rewarding teams for their performance. Again, I think it’s too early to predict what our future philosophy would be but our current philosophy has been to reward a team, whether it’s Hawaii or Boise and Boise State has taken advantage of that philosophy, twice now, to earn some significant revenue. We said at the outset that Boise State’s membership in the WAC has been very, very valuable to Boise State, whether it’s the bowl appearances or the 30 plus ESPN telecasts over the years. Because of the WAC Boise State has become a nationally-recognized program.”

<strong>Damage to WAC Credibility?</strong>

“So far nothing has happened. Boise State is still a member, they were around the table throughout the day as we talked about other NCAA issues. At this juncture absolutely not. Even if we were talking today about the impact that a Boise State departure may have had on the WAC I would be telling all of you again that the WAC has had a storied history, schools in the past that have brought national attention. When the original break up of the 16 teams, I’ve said this many times, that Fresno State stepped up at that time and took on the flagship of the WAC and they were in the mix on a couple different times from a BCS standpoint. Boise State replaced Fresno State as the marquee team but I’m very, very confident that if Boise State leaves the WAC that it’s going to be Fresno State, or Hawaii, or Utah State, or San Jose State. Go on down the line. Somebody’s going to step up and compete. We’ve established a standard that a WAC team is going to be in the BCS mix.”

<strong>Should Pres. Kuster Have Been Less Overt?</strong>

“That’s not important at this juncture.”

<strong>Relationships with Boise State Strained?</strong>

“Not at all. It was very collegial. We talked about other issues that were totally unrelated to the BCS. Bob Kuster and Gene Bleymaier have provided great leadership for the WAC over the last five or six years. We had social event last night that was very cordial, very comfortable. We’re going to a social event again tonight. It’s awkward but on the other hand I think there’s mutual respect for Boise State and vice versa.”

<strong>BSU Invite After July 1</strong>

“I can’t elaborate on what the punitive penalties might be, but my guess would be they could still make that decision but subject to penalties.”

<strong>Other Teams Leaving</strong>

“I think the possible realignment that could happen could call or a shift in the Midwest and if Conference USA or whatever else might have an opening for Louisiana Tech that would seem a natural, we would not stand in the way of Louisiana Tech from making that move. Louisiana Tech has been a great member of the WAC. They’ve been a valued member of the WAC and they’ve contributed to the WAC. But we recognize the geography and the time zone.”

<strong>WAC Move Eastward</strong>

“In this case our vast geography, Ruston to Honolulu, provides us with a lot of different options and a lot of different opportunities. We don’t necessarily have to extend our boundaries. On the other hand, I think ideally we would like to constrict our boundaries and make them smaller. If that doesn’t happen, we have the luxury of looking at schools in the Central Time Zone and be able to justify a membership. Obviously a divisional membership because of our geography would probably be more efficient. We’ve tried in the past to create some divisional alignments that materialize. I wouldn’t rule out 12 teams, two divisions, that would take into account the Central Time Zone.”

<strong>Conference Distribution</strong>

“We have our projected year-end distribution. It is still estimated. But no we did not (discuss it).”

<strong>Discussed the University of Montana?</strong>

“We did not get specific today. We did identify several, possible replacement teams or new members. The only classification was that those schools that are currently within the WAC boundary, from Ruston, Louisiana to Honolulu, are all in the picture, both current FBS schools and FCS schools. I can’t get specific but you can probably guess what the answer is.”

<strong>Merits of Montana</strong>

“Again, I’m not prepared to speak to any particular school but as we look at future members we are going to look at programs that have tradition, programs that have a fan base and programs that have proven themselves at whatever level. The WAC has a history of schools that have gone from the Big Sky to the Big West to the WAC or schools that have gone directly from the Big Sky to the next step. The history of college football in the west has shown that teams from the Big Sky can be successful at the next level and they can be as successful as Boise State and Nevada and Idaho and Utah State and New Mexico State have shown.”

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