Scenario, 1993: Provo, Utah. A light snow falls over the Wasatch Range as nearly 70,000 cram into Cougar Stadium for the inaugural Ford Truck Western Athletic Conference Championship Game. Mountain Division champion Colorado State beats Coast Division champ Brigham Young before a national TV audience to earn a berth in the Holiday Bowl.

Scenario, 1994: Fort Collins, Colo. Jerry Tarkanian, his illustrious and controversy-marked coaching career winding to a close, brings Nevada-Las Vegas into Moby Arena for his last WAC game. Tarkanian is honored by Colorado State with a pair of retirement gifts - a rocking chair and a dartboard emblazoned with photographs of NCAA officials.They seem like pie-in-the-Western-sky scenes, flights of fantasy, products of someone's overzealous imagination.

But they could happen.

There are those in the WAC who think scenes like these will happen.

In the turbulent world of college athletics - with conference realignment rampant and schools scrambling to make deals - the WAC figures to become a player in this game of shifting allegiances.

After conversations with each of the nine WAC athletic directors plus officials from each of three prospective expansion schools, the inescapable conclusions are these:

The WAC will expand by three schools sometime in the next five years, perhaps as soon as the 1992-93 school year. Those three schools will be UNLV, Fresno State and San Jose State. The league then will have 12 members, allowing it to split into two divisions and stage an annual, rich-in-revenue championship football game between the two division winners.

WAC officials and the athletic directors at the three prospective expansion schools say official overtures have not been made to the three schools, which currently compete in the Big West Conference. But sources say preliminary discussion already has taken place.

"It's going to happen," said a source within the athletic department of one of the schools, who asked not to be identified. "It just makes too much sense for it not to happen. It's only a matter of time, and I'm sure all the details can be worked out."

While most WAC athletic directors consider the issue too delicate to discuss in specific terms, some had no qualms about discussing the schools by name.

"UNLV, San Jose State and Fresno are definitely the three schools out there that would fit best in our league," said San Diego State athletic director Fred Miller. "All three of them make sense geographically, and all three would bring a lot to the dance.

"There's some nervousness regarding UNLV because of their reputation and their problems with the NCAA, and that's something we'd have to address. But if that stuff gets cleared up, it could work."

Miller's colleagues showed varying degrees of enthusiasm about expansion. But none of the nine WAC athletic directors said he was against the concept. And all nine said they like the financial ramifications of a 12-team, two-division WAC.

The Southeastern Conference - the first to take advantage of the NCAA's rule which allows a championship football game for leagues with 12 teams - recently expanded by two schools to get to 12.

The SEC's divisional alignment was approved three weeks ago, and the conference hopes to hold its first championship football game in 1992.

The SEC figures to make major dollars on the game, both at the gate and through television. And whenever anybody in major college sports figures out a new way to make money, others are sure to follow.

Many college administrators think the 12-team, two-division concept is the wave of the future. They envision a weekend in early December filled with conference championship games, with the winners advancing to a major college playoff tournament.

"The magic number is 12," said Air Force Academy athletic director Col. John Clune. "There's no question in my mind a WAC championship game between two division winners would be a big draw and a big money maker."

But the chance for additional revenues isn't the only good thing about the concept. Maybe the best thing about it is the potential for cutting travel costs in non-revenue sports. Non-revenue teams would play all the teams in their division, plus a game or two against teams from the other division. And with the divisions being geographically aligned, travel costs would be cut drastically.

The issue of travel costs hits home with each of the nine WAC athletic directors, men who must constantly wrestle with their budgets because of the vast geographic span of the league.

One more benefit: With the additions, the WAC would make itself abundantly more attractive to television in football and basketball. And with the College Football Association's television contract in limbo because of a Federal Trade Commission challenge, conferences are finding it increasingly crucial to be telegenic.

Which leads to this question: Given the fact that the league's ADs are for it, and given the fact that UNLV, Fresno and San Jose State are in a less prestigious conference with inferior revenue possibilities, how in the world can it not happen?

Answer: The ADs don't have a vote. The school presidents do.

Before expansion can happen, the nine WAC presidents must decide expansion is a good idea. Then, with input from their athletic directors, the presidents must decide whom they want to invite.

"It's not the sort of thing that will be done easily," said Texas-El Paso athletic director Brad Hovious. "This might be the No. 1 priority on our list as ADs, but it might be No. 10 on the presidents' list. They have other agendas."

Still, with a majority of the nine WAC athletic departments strapped for cash, most observers think the presidents won't pass up the chance to bail out their athletic programs financially.

If it were up to the nine WAC athletic directors and the athletic bosses at UNLV, San Jose and Fresno, the move unquestionably would be made.



WAC procedures for expansion

A step-by-step breakdown of the procedures the Western Athletic Conference has established for expansion:

1. A three-person committee made up of presidents of WAC schools - chaired by Wyoming president Dr. Terry Roark - was formed in June to study the subject of expansion.

2. That committee appointed a special committee of athletic personnel at WAC schools - chaired by Air Force Academy athletic director Col. John Clune - to study the pros, cons and feasibility of expansion. Clune's committee presented its report in September. The report had a favorable view of expansion and recommended further study by the presidents' committee.

3. The WAC Presidents' Council - made up of the nine presidents of WAC schools - voted in October to lift a moratorium on expansion.

4. The three-person presidents' committee will spend the next several months studying the expansion issue in "an orderly process . . . with a maximum of input and information required before any steps are taken." That committee will report its findings to the Presidents' Council.

5. The report in hand, the Presidents' Council will vote on whether the WAC should expand. If the council decides not to expand, the process ends here.

6. If the presidents are in favor of expanding, they first will decide how many schools the WAC should add. Then they will establish criteria for and evaluate qualifications of potential new members.

7. The council will identify potential new members that fit the qualifications and determine if those schools are interested in joining the WAC.

8. The presidents will formally invite the new members to join the conference.

9. The presidents - working in concert with the league office and the athletic directors - will work out details involving divisional alignment, the possible addition of divisional championship games in some sports, scheduling and revenue distribution.