WAC trying to recapture old status, improve bowl bids
RENO, Nev. (AP) – The Western Athletic Conference has regrouped from a devastating breakup four years ago and is courting the Big Ten and Pac 10 for a postseason football bowl matchup, WAC Commissioner Karl Benson said Thursday.
”We have regained our status and our stature,” Benson said.
”There were a lot of people out there who didn’t give us a chance, including the eight schools that broke away from the WAC,” he said at the league’s annual preseason media day at the Reno Hilton.
Brigham Young, Colorado State, Air Force, Wyoming, UNLV, San Diego State, Utah and New Mexico all left the conference over the past four years. Texas Christian left at the end of last season.
The current league makeup, in order of predicted finish in this year’s preseason football conference media poll, are:
Fresno State, Texas El-Paso, Boise State, Hawaii, San Jose State, Tulsa, Rice, Southern Methodist, Louisiana Tech and Nevada. Boise State and Louisiana Tech are debuting this year.
”I’ll admit my optimism was probably somewhat fake during a few of those years when I told people I thought we were going to be okay,” Benson told reporters Thursday.
”The first two years as the WAC came out of the breakup we were just trying to re-establish ourselves. … This is the first year I can genuinely say we have gotten over the top and have performed at a level that was unexpected,” he said.
”One could argue we are actually better today than we were in 1998 or 1997.”
The key has been improving the WAC’s ties to post-season bowl games, establishing a way into the Bowl Championship Series and landing a TV deal with ESPN, he said.
This year, if a WAC team is ranked among the top six teams nationally, it will be guaranteed a berth in one of the four BCS bowls — Fiesta Bowl, Sugar Bowl, Orange Bowl or Rose Bowl.
”It’s a very significant event that puts us back on equal footing with other conferences and allows us to go forward as part of major college football,” he said.
The WAC is guaranteed slots against at-large teams in the Humanitarian Bowl Dec. 31 at Boise, Idaho and the Silicon Valley Football Classic Dec. 31 at San Jose, Calif.
”And I anticipate we’ll have a third berth somewhere out there,” Benson said.
The galleryfurniture.com Bowl at Houston Dec. 28 calls for the Big 12’s seventh-place team to play a team from Conference USA and the Las Vegas Bowl Dec. 20 pits the Pac 10’s sixth-place team against the Mountain West Conference, Benson said.
But Benson said there’s a 50-50 chance the Big 12 and Pac 10 won’t be able to qualify that many teams for bowls.
”We’re optimistic we’ll be able to slide a team in,” he said.
In addition, Benson said there may be changes in original plans for the Big Ten and ACC to provide teams for the Micron PC Bowl, which is moving from Fort Lauderdale to Orlando, to be played before Christmas.
The Big Ten most likely will not send a team there because of school finals schedules, so may be interested in the Humanitarian or Silicon bowls, Benson said.
”We have had discussions with the Big Ten about a deal in either San Jose or Boise. I’m optimistic something could occur between the WAC and Big Ten to either send a team to San Jose or Boise.”
Also, the new San Francisco Jeep Bowl that is scheduled Dec. 30 may be put off a year. It was to pit the Pac 10’s fifth-place team against a Big East team, so that Pac 10 team may drop into the Las Vegas Bowl, which would free up the next Pac 10 team for San Jose or Boise, he said.
”The early indications coming back from the Pac 10 is yes, there is interest,” Benson said.
The deal with ESPN and ESPN-2 includes four national telecasts and several regional games. The biggest is Sept. 2, the Sunday of Labor Day weekend, when Fresno State hosts Oregon State.
”It’s a tremendous television showcase for us,” Benson said.
The other nationally televised games are Texas Tech at UTEP Sept. 13, and Fresno State at Hawaii Oct. 26, and either San Jose at Fresno State or Air Force at Hawaii on Nov. 23.
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