The University of Utah's improbable run to the NCAA championship basketball game was the most widely viewed sports event in WAC history. The results, according to a conference official, could be felt for years to come.
In losing 78-69 to Kentucky on Monday, the Utes became the first basketball team since the WAC was formed to play in an NCAA championship game. Texas Western, later to become UTEP, won the national title in 1966. However, that was before the Miners joined the conference."Being in the championship game helps in tangible and intangible ways," said WAC assistant commissioner Jeff Hurd. "The tangible is obviously revenue. And revenue is important."
Utah earned $2.5 million, part of which will go to the conference, while the four WAC teams combined - Utah, New Mexico, TCU and UNLV - earned $4 million by appearing in the NCAA Tournament.
"The intangibles would include credibility and the spinoff we should get," continued Hurd. "It makes everyone in the league better. It makes it a little easier to recruit. People know about Utah, obviously, and now they'll maybe know a little about the WAC, too."
Hurd compared the run to the title game with BYU's winning the national title in football in 1984. However, while BYU's game was televised to only a small portion of the country, and the title was claimed by a vote of media members and coaches, Utah's game was shown to 600 million viewers worldwide and was won in a tournament setting.
"Before BYU won the championship, BYU and occasionally Air Force would go to a bowl game," said Hurd. "Since then, all 10 original WAC teams have been to a bowl game."
Hurd said Utah's trip to the Final Four could have a similar effect, in terms of benefiting other WAC teams. He called the WAC's basketball presence "moderately successful" but added no WAC team had ever "been to the pinnacle of success until now."
He concluded, "Just being here does a heck of a lot for the WAC."