SALT LAKE CITY — For nearly 50 years, Utah State University fans and administrators have maintained that Utah and BYU sabotaged them. From the Aggie perspective, when the Western Athletic Conference was formed in 1962, their instate rivals turned away without a second glance.
Ever since, the resentment has festered. Schools like Fresno State, UNLV, San Diego State, Tulsa, TCU and Rice got the backing of Utah and BYU in the WAC and/or Mountain West, but not Utah State.
The Utes and Cougars didn't mind looking halfway across the continent — even across the ocean, in Hawaii's case — to find new teams. But never up the road.
So it is with great irony that Utah Valley University is claiming the very school that got snubbed for half a century by its neighbors is now dishing out the same treatment.
This time USU is apparently turning its back on UVU.
"At one point in time they were in support of us," said Wolverine director of athletics Mike Jacobsen, "and that's kind of changed recently."
The backdrop in 2011 is the continued upheaval in college sports. As teams search for a place in the new landscape, the Western Athletic Conference is trying to stay viable. It is losing Boise State, Fresno State, Nevada and Hawaii. That has left the league scrambling to maintain enough teams for football. The WAC recently added Texas-San Antonio and Texas State, which do play football, but also Denver U., which doesn't.
Amid all this, upwardly mobile UVU is trying to move ahead by joining the WAC, partly because its own conference, the Great West, will soon be down to five basketball-playing schools. Based on campus visits and discussions, UVU expected to be invited to attend the WAC's June 13-14 conference meetings.
As Keith Jackson would say, "Whoa, Nellie."
"The WAC has not made a decision regarding future membership," said WAC commissioner Karl Benson. He went to to say there was "never an invitation" for UVU to either join the league or attend the June meetings.
But Jacobsen feels it is Utah State — the league's strongest member — that will decide whether the Wolverines join the WAC, and currently the support isn't there.
"For sure, if Utah State was in support of us being in the WAC, that would happen," Jacobsen said.
Jacobsen said USU has told him it only wants football-playing schools to be added (UVU doesn't have football). At the same time, DU has already been admitted, while Cal State-Bakersfield and Seattle University — also non-football schools — are under consideration.
Jacobsen said he's OK with USU wanting only football schools, but "if they add one of those other non-football schools, which word is they're going to do, that concerns me a little bit."
Why wouldn't USU want UVU in the conference? For one thing, the Aggies have thrived with Utah County players like Tyler Newbold and Tai Wesley. Why risk losing them to a conference rival?
"Our ability to recruit better athletes would go up (if UVU joined the WAC), so going head-to-head with (USU), we would win some of them, where we don't win any of them now," Jacobsen said. "We get some ringers like Ryan Toolson and Ronnie Price, but that doesn't always happen."
Utah State athletics director Scott Barnes issued the following news release: "The WAC Membership Committee/Athletics Directors have met and reviewed future membership models for the WAC. However, I am not at liberty to provide any further information. The WAC Board of Directors will meet June 13 and 14 and will decide at that time whether to expand the WAC membership beyond the eight members that will comprise the WAC beginning July, 2012."
USU probably also sees the admission of UVU as a further move toward a basketball-only conference. So the Aggies are protecting their interest. Meanwhile, UVU feels it is being shunned by its instate associate.
It's logical that USU would be reluctant to share its recruiting base. At the same time, if anyone knows how it feels to be at the mercy of a more prosperous neighbor, it's the Aggies.
Nice as it is to be on good terms, this is an era in which goodwill means far less than winning. So don't plan on USU voting in favor of Utah Valley at next month's meetings. If USU has learned anything in the last 50 years of watching Utah and BYU, it's that all is fair in love, war and keeping the neighbors off your property.
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