Nevada couldn’t refuse offer to bolt WAC for MWC
RENO – More money, more exposure, less travel, more stability and a reunion with your downstate, archrival to boot?
Former colleagues left holding the bag in the Western Athletic Conference see Nevada as one of the bad guys, but the chance to bolt for the Mountain West was an offer the Wolf Pack could not refuse.
“We have always believed that we have to do what is best for our student-athletes, our program and our institution and this made sense to us,” Nevada athletic director Cary Groth said.
“There’s a whole bunch of reasons that this makes more sense for us but the travel is a big one,” she said, pointing to football games on the road this year at both Hawaii and Louisiana Tech.
“The exposure of the Mountain West also has been a little stronger than the WAC,” she told The Associated Press on Wednesday night.
Perhaps more important, Groth said the Mountain West has outperformed the WAC “BCS-wise” in terms of bowl games in recent years, “which affords us more opportunity for revenue and obviously that is critical right now.”
Another factor was Louisiana Tech’s long-held position that it would entertain an offer from Conference USA or any other conference that was a better geographic fit, she said.
“There might be a little more shifting going on in the WAC, whereas I think the Mountain West provides a little more stability,” Groth told AP.
The move that will put Nevada and UNLV in the same conference for the first time since the Big West in 1995 brought a strong rebuke from WAC Commissioner Karl Benson on Thursday.
In a conference call with reporters, he called Nevada and Fresno State “selfish,” characterizing them as partners in crime who – practically overnight – caused the WAC to go “from having a secure and prosperous future to once again not knowing what the future will hold.”
Groth and Nevada president Milt Glick said they feel bad about leaving behind former colleagues in the league and knew that Benson was “very disappointed” in their decision.
“That was a hard conversation to have with him, quite frankly, because we have a lot of respect for Commissioner Benson,” Glick said Wednesday night. “We are trying to balance the long-term benefits of moving to the Mountain West with the real losses we feel with leaving the WAC.”
Still to be resolved is the “exit fee” that Nevada apparently is on the hook to pay as a result of an agreement recently calling for as much as a $5 million buyout penalty for any school leaving the WAC.
Glick said Nevada understood the exit fee with a “high end” of $5 million was contingent on BYU joining the WAC and that if BYU did not join, the fee would be something less.
“We believe that whatever that exit fee is, if you spread it out over five years, we still come out ahead in terms of revenue and expenses,” Glick said.
Glick indicated the Mountain West might help cover part of the fee, saying the league had made it “very attractive for us to join them.”
Benson said the WAC intends to hold Nevada and Fresno State to the deal and that they cannot leave the league until 2012.
But Groth said she hopes they can negotiate a deal to make the leap in the fall of 2011 because lame duck conference members do no one any good.
“I think it is difficult to stay in a league – after you have announced your departure – for everyone. It would be our preference to go in 2011-12,” she said.
Glick defended the way Nevada officials handled the negotiations leading up to the move. He said they had initial talks with the Mountain West on Tuesday and that league officials made a formal offer at 1 p.m. on Wednesday. He said the Mountain West “didn’t give us a firm timeline.”
“But they were anxious to have a decision as we were anxious to make a decision,” Glick said. “We think once that offer is out there it is best that you bring closure as soon as possible rather than let rumors go. I think we and they and also Fresno all agreed the sooner we could each come to a decision, the better off everyone is.
“I think it is very healthy for our athletic program to know what is going to happen, to focus on how we have a great season this year and not spend time wondering what is next.”
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