Fresno State's chances of joining a league of Western Athletic Conference defectors hinge largely on whether university president John Welty can convince his peers that the Bulldogs have cleaned up their controversial basketball program.
"They need some kind of guarantee from Welty that he will provide a basketball program that's not an embarrassment to the conference," a vice president of one of the eight breakaway schools said.Those schools - Brigham Young, Utah, Colorado State, Wyoming, Air Force, New Mexico, UNLV and San Diego State - announced their intention Tuesday to form their own league effective June 30, 1999. The split left Fresno State in an eight-team WAC with significantly reduced income possibilities.
Presidents of the eight defecting schools said they've left the door ajar for a possible ninth member. But, a WAC official who asked not to be identified said athletic directors asked the presidents not to add another member to the breakaway group.
The issue promises to be addressed next week in a meeting of all 16 WAC presidents at Monterey.
Asking not to be identified, the vice president also said, "Fresno is seriously being considered for an invitation to the new conference, but there are major concerns and reservations about its basketball program. If the presidents had confidence that problem was rectified and dealt with, Fresno would be a real good choice."
Off-court problems with players ranging from arrests for assault to drug suspensions dogged Jerry Tarkanian last season, his third as Fresno State's basketball coach. The incidents were magnified nationally on a CBS newsmagazine "60 Minutes" segment in March.
The vice president said Fresno State's leverage for joining the new league would improve if the presidents were certain Tarkanian would not be coaching the program "in a year or two."
Tarkanian became irate when told that his program has created a potential roadblock for the school's entry into the new league.
"This blows my mind," he said. "It's so far out of line, I don't believe it. I'd hate like h--- to have somebody blame us. What did we do?"
In his next breath, he did acknowledge the off-court problems that resulted in nine suspensions involving seven players.
He then questioned why his program's misdeeds were an issue as opposed to those recently at Brigham Young University and New Mexico, to name a few.
At BYU, two players were arrested a month ago for marijuana possession, and another a year ago was involved in a credit card and check-cashing scam.
In the last year at New Mexico, two players were arrested for driving under the influence and another was found to have a concealed weapon.