The Western Athletic Conference will attempt to soldier on despite an apparent death blow Thursday night. Hawaii's reported defection to the Mountain West weakens the WAC but it doesn't kill it, according to WAC commissioner Karl Benson.
Hawaii apparently has a deal to leave the WAC after 32 years -- to play football in the Mountain West and all other sports in the Big West -- according to overnight reports. That would leave the WAC with only seven members in football and eight in basketball beginning in 2012. The WAC's Division I basketball membership would be affected first. Per the NCAA's "continuity-of-membership" clause each basketball conference needs a minimum of six Division I members who have been together at least six years. Beginning in 2012, the year Hawaii reportedly will leave for the Mountain West, the WAC will have only five such members.
However, Benson said pending NCAA legislation will allow the WAC to keep its automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.
"We're anticipating the new NCAA legislation that is expected to be adopted in January that eliminates the continuity-of-membership issue," Benson said Friday morning.
Told of Benson's comments, one Division I-A official said, "I can't imagine that that [legislation] would get through."
The league's BCS membership (as a non-automatic qualifier) is unaffected at least through the current television contract that goes through the 2013 season (2014 bowls). The BCS does not require a minimum number of conference members, according to Benson. Benson said the NCAA requires a minimum of eight conference members but that is only for NCAA governance purposes. The WAC could still compete in football with the seven members. The league would not be listed as Division I-A.
"It [number of members] doesn't matter for this contract," said one person familiar with the BCS process. "It remains to be seen what happens in the next contract."
However, the WAC is not done adding members, Benson said. Montana and Cal-Davis have been mentioned as possible WAC additions.
"Our plan today is to get back to eight football-playing members," Benson said. "That still will be our goal."
The WAC recently added emerging I-AA programs Texas State and Texas-San Antonio. Both begin WAC play in 2012 as I-A members. Denver was added in basketball only. The WAC had to make a move after losing Nevada, Fresno State and Boise State to the Mountain West in the last few months. Hawaii will move to the Mountain West in 2012 giving that conference 11 members.
Benson said his league was in the process of allowing Hawaii to compete in the WAC in football only and putting all its other sports in another conference. Instead, Hawaii went for the Mountain West deal. The MWC is chasing an automatic BCS bid -- at least temporarily in 2012 and 2013. That pursuit was hurt by the loss of Utah to the Pac-10 and BYU going independent.
This is the current membership of the WAC
New Mexico State
San Jose State
This is what the WAC membership could look like in 2012 if Hawaii leaves
Denver (basketball only)
San Jose State
New Mexico State