Brad Rock: Weber State staying put amidst surrounding chaos

Published: Tuesday, Jan. 25 2011 11:22 p.m. MST

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah State is standing pat in the WAC. Not entirely by its own choice, but rather by the statement issued Tuesday by the Mountain West Conference: It's not expanding.

So there's one move you don't have to track for at least, oh, 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, Utah Valley University hopes to move from the Great West Conference to the WAC. But with Idaho and USU staying, that makes it less likely for UVU. This much is irrefutable: Utah and BYU are moving to the Pac-12 and independence, respectively, and Southern Utah is joining the Big Sky.

So naturally you ask: Where is Weber State in all this shuffling?

Same place as always. But thanks for asking.

Maybe the other schools didn't get the memo: Moving to a bigger, more expensive house isn't always the best thing.

It's been a turbulent year in college sports as teams position for the future. Like chess-playing and buffet-dining, it's always wise to think a few moves ahead. That's what Weber State says it's doing. It's installing a new turf and eventually more bathrooms and concessions at the football stadium. It already has a modern press box and suites area. The basketball team has been a good I-A program for decades.

So it has a few things to sell.

At the same time, Weber State isn't going to leap without a landing spot. Patience, effort and vigilance are its watch words.

"We feel good about where we are and where we're headed," said Athletic Director Jerry Bovee. "We don't want to suffer an identity crisis, but we feel good about who we are and where we want to go."

Weber State has always had a niche market. With three FBS (Division I-A) football programs within a 75-mile radius of Ogden, the school has for decades lurked in the foothills, first as a junior college, then as a I-AA (later FCS) football program. It doesn't have a big fan base or get widespread media coverage. That's because the Wildcats play in the Big Sky, an agreeably small conference largely tied to its fans by face-to-face contact.

You aren't likely to see the Wildcats on ESPN or in USA Today, but you might see them — players, coaches, administrators — at the dry cleaner's or the Jiffy Lube. They're fine with that. Exposure is one thing, solvency another. Weber isn't about to try for a bigger conference unless it makes monetary and competitive sense.

In moving to the WAC, Weber State would need to up its football scholarships from 63 to 85. But to comply with Title IX, it would also have to add 22 scholarships on the women's side.

Forty-four new scholarships is an expensive proposition.

Factoring in other upgrades (stadium expansion, facility improvements, etc.), the WAC may not be the way to go. From a realistic sense, Weber State might be going nowhere, anyway. Football requires a two-year attendance average of 15,000 to earn FBS status.

Weber isn't the only school thinking practically. Montana — the Big Sky's best program — got invited to join the WAC but declined in November. The Grizzlies are selling out their stadium and are perennial FCS title contenders, but apparently felt life in the unsettled WAC could be hard.

Here's to having a map and driving the speed limit.

The WSU men's basketball team has been to the NCAA Tournament 14 times (though just four times in the last 15 years). In 2005, Street and Smith magazine ranked it 51st among all-time Division I men's basketball programs. The football team made the FCS quarterfinals in 2008.

Both decent selling points, if Weber were so inclined. Which, as of Tuesday, it wasn't.

Although playing it safe can be good financial strategy, it's not always popular with boosters, who generally go for the glamour.

"We've got fans who would criticize that (staying in the Big Sky). They would say, 'Why wouldn't you look if the WAC were available? It appears to be a no-brainer,' " Bovee said. "But you've got to look at the positives and negatives to that type of move.

"So for us, the niche fits. I don't know if it will always be that way. As we grow our fan base, there may come a time when we feel it (moving) makes sense. But we're not just going to do it to do it."

Sometimes applying too much makeup can ruin the entire ensemble.

e-mail: rock@desnews.com

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