DID YOU HEAR the latest? The Western Athletic Conference, giving way to common sense, decided last week to lift its moratorium on expansion. WARNING: this does not mean the WAC is actually going to expand. No, no. That's not what it means at all. Diana Natalicio, head of the WAC President's Council, explained what it really means in a semi-clearly worded statement to reporters:
"It means an orderly process regarding the possibility of expansion has been mandated with a maximum of input and information required before any further steps are taken."By the way, Diana, after a maximum of input and further mandates and possible other considerations and orderly steps, has been voted our weekly winner of the Alexander Haig Award for her skillful use of officialese.
Here's what Diana was trying to say: The WAC wants to study expansion thoroughly before adding teams to the league.
And all this means - and you've probably been wondering - is that in the event the WAC actually does decide to expand, the Utah State Aggies will apply for WAC membership. Again.
This is not an original story. Let's see, the Ags applied for WAC membership when the league began in 1962, and they've applied twice since then. Each time the WAC has refused them, and here they are again. The Aggies have been jilted more times than Woody Allen, but they always come back for more.
Perhaps the WAC owes USU further consideration. After all, the beginning of the WAC was the beginning of the Aggies' troubles. While other members of the old Skyline Conference (Utah, BYU, Wyoming, etc.) were accepted into the WAC from the beginning, USU was forced to become an independent, which is the NCAA's version of a transient these days. Life for the Ags has never been the same since then.
Being an independent eventually proved too difficult for the Aggies (constant scheduling problems, no conference race, violins please). Eventually, they joined something called the Pacific Coast Athletic Association, which later became the Big West Conference. By any name, it's been a strange 13-year marriage - Jeremiah Johnson joins the Beach Boys - and the Aggies have hardly prospered in the deal, particularly in football. Old Tackle U. has had nine consecutive losing seasons. To survive economically, the Aggies are forced to play the likes of Nebraska, LSU, USC and Oklahoma - games that play like scenes from Halloween III - which means more losing.
The Big West is respectable in basketball and something less than that in football, but all that is almost irrelevant. Aggie fans can't relate to the Cal State-Fullertons/-Irvines/-Long Beach States/-Santa Barbaras. There are no natural rivalries in the league for them or their teams. The Utah media knows all this and covers the league accordingly. Meanwhile, the Ags' attendance and recruiting suffer, and they're forced to play more big-time, non-conference teams to pay the bills.
The Aggies' best (and last?) chance to return to prosperity is to crack the WAC this time around. If they fail, they might be forced to face grim realities in the future - such as joining the Big Sky Conference.
The problem is - and you probably guessed this already - is convincing the WAC to accept the Aggies. If the league refused them in the 60s when they were nationally prominent, when they were better than BYU and Utah, why now?
What do the Ags have to offer the WAC? Natural rivalries, close proximity to WAC schools (which saves travel time and costs), tradition, good academics, a good basketball program and good facilities, not to mention The Aggiettes, springtime on The Quad, Old Main and Tony Grove.
What don't the Ags have to offer the WAC? The league is looking for TV sets and a new market. They get neither with USU. The Ags also suffer from poor attendance (this might improve with WAC membership), a slumping football program and a small population base.
USU's best chance to get into the league is to come in with several other schools. How about a merger of the WAC with the best of the Big West - UNLV, Fresno State, San Jose State, Utah State, New Mexico State. Break the league into divisions, with the divisional winners playing for the title. This would cut travel costs, facilitate natural rivalries, create two races out of one, and put WAC teams in contention for five bowl games - Sun, Holiday, Freedom, Aloha and California.
If that doesn't work, the Ags should try something else. Anything short of groveling. No, try groveling. Or bribery. Or both. In a personal letter from the school's president, Stan Cazier:
Dear Commissioner Kearney, Sir, Kind Sir, Your Exalted Highness;
I happened to notice that your league is considering expansion again, and, surprise!, we're ready to join your ranks. We'd be willing to give you Old Main and a season pass to Beaver Mountain for membership. Name your price. Just give us a chance. Keep us in your thoughts. You know you're in ours, and always will be.