When it comes to the Western Athletic Conference and the placement of the league's championship football game runner-up in a postseason bowl, the above may be as much a plea as it is an offering.

Two years ago, Wyoming lost in overtime to fifth-ranked BYU in the inaugural title game of the newly expanded, mega-member WAC. The 10-2 Cowboys stayed home in Laramie without receiving even a sniff of bowl attention.Last year, WAC officials scrambled to assure a spot for its No. 2 team, and New Mexico enjoyed the WAC's first-ever bowl berth for the league runner-up in the insight.com Bowl. But the Tucson, Ariz., bowl not long after dumped the conference tie-in, leaving the league high and dry after it had helped keep the former Copper Bowl afloat for nearly a half-decade.

Now, the WAC is not only minus one automatic bowl berth but without a guaranteed spot for its championship runner-up. And with half of its 16 teams bolting to create another league next season, the conference has more prevalent worries than securing a bowl invite for its No. 2 team.

"We have no guarantees for the runner-up," admitted WAC commissioner Karl Benson.

At the start of 1998, it appeared the WAC would have a minimum of four bowl spots secured - the champion destined for either the Cotton or Holiday bowls, the runner-up to the insight.com Bowl, the Las Vegas Bowl taking a third conference team and the new Jeep Aloha Christmas Football Classics - a Christmas Day doubleheader in Honolulu replacing the Aloha Bowl - selecting a fourth WAC team.

But the insight.com Bowl severed its WAC ties, opting instead to pursue a No. 2 or No. 3 selection from the Big East or Notre Dame, which has attracted the hopes of second-tier bowls since the Fighting Irish are no longer the automatic lock for a Bowl Championship Series spot, as in seasons past.

That leaves three bowl berths for the WAC, starting with the champion either picked by the Cotton Bowl (as BYU was two seasons ago) or relegated to the lesser Holiday Bowl (as CSU was last season).

Also, the WAC does remain a player in the Bowl Championship Series. But for a WAC team to be selected, it must be ranked among the top six of the BSC standings - a formula involving polls, computer rankings and strength of schedule.

But the WAC defections have damaged the conference's bowl picture. "Once the WAC breakup was announced, everything fell back into a one-year arrangement," said Benson, explaining the the Oahu Bowl - one half of the Aloha doubleheader - was ready to lock into a WAC tie-in.

And now the Las Vegas Bowl is saying it wants to sever its WAC relationship after this season (see related story on this page).

The WAC and Aloha and Las Vegas bowl officials have agreed on several scenarios for this year's bowl selections, Benson said. Both bowls can agree to wait until the Dec. 5 WAC championship game to make their selections, or they can on or around Nov. 21 inform the WAC which teams they would select as their respective WAC invitee. If the same team is selected by both bowls, then that team has the privilege of choosing which bowl it would rather attend.

Another provision with the Aloha Classics is that Hawaii can be selected over any other WAC member provided it is bowl-worthy (with the appropriate number of Division I-A victories).

The major stumbling block of having the WAC runner-up automatically move to the Las Vegas Bowl to face an at-large team in its Dec. 19 contest is the fact that the runner-up would have lost in the same Sam Boyd Stadium just two weeks previous. While having a repeat performance in glittery Las Vegas may work for Wayne Newton and Tom Jones, it certainly wouldn't sit well with the locals following the WAC team. And it would likely be tough to have the team's fan base excited to travel to the same location twice in a 14-day stretch.

Another possibility is that the WAC runner-up - along with its record and division title - is attractive enough to earn one of the six at-large bids from new bowls (Motor City, Music City) or lesser bowls (Humanitarian, Liberty, Independence). Benson said the Humanitarian and Independence bowls would be the most likely to pursue a WAC team.

Challenges for the WAC runner-up in the second scenario include the fact the team is coming off at least one loss to end the regular season, the possibility that it may have a poor reputation of a bowl-traveling school and the chance that other candidate teams closer than that of the West-based conference may be a better regional draw for a budget-minded smaller bowl.

BYU coach LaVell Edwards knows the perception challenges that follow a team losing a December conference championship game.

"The team that loses is seen as coming as damaged goods," Edwards said.

In short, the 1998 WAC championship game may have more than just a title and a trophy on the line. It may be the difference between spending the holidays in Dallas or San Diego versus Honolulu or back in Las Vegas.

Or perhaps in the not-so-warm-weather climes of Idaho, Michigan, Tennessee or Louisiana.

Or maybe just staying at home.

*****

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION

WAC's bowl berths for 1998 season

Bowls with WAC tie-ins

Southwestern Bell Cotton Bowl - Dallas, Jan. 1, 11:30 a.m. MT, FOX

- WAC champ or Pac-10 No. 2 vs. Big 12 No. 2

Culligan Holiday Bowl - San Diego, Dec. 30, 6 p.m. MT, ESPN

- WAC champ or Pac-10 No. 2 vs. Big 12 No. 3

Las Vegas Bowl - Las Vegas, Dec. 19, 4 p.m. MT, ESPN

- WAC selection vs. at-large

Jeep Aloha Christmas Football Classics - Honolulu, Dec. 25, 6:30 p.m. MT, ESPN

- WAC selection vs. Pac-10 No. 5

- (also Pac-10 No. 4 vs. at-large)

Bowls with at-large berths

Las Vegas Bowl - Las Vegas, Dec. 19, 4 p.m. MT, ESPN

- At-large vs. WAC selection

Ford Motor City Bowl - Pontiac, Mich., Dec. 23, 6:30 p.m. MT, ESPN2

- At-large vs. Mid-American champion

Jeep Aloha Christmas Football Classics - Honolulu, Dec. 25, 6;30 p.m. MT, ESPN

- At-large vs. Pac-10 No. 4

Music City Bowl - Nashville, Tenn., Dec. 29, 3:30 p.m. MT, ESPN

- At-large vs. SEC No. 6

Humanitarian Bowl - Boise, Dec. 30, 2 p.m. MT, ESPN

- At-large vs. Big West champion

AXA Equitable Liberty Bowl - Memphis, Tenn., Dec. 31, 11:30 a.m. MT, ESPN

- At-large vs. Conference USA champion

Sanford Independence Bowl - Shreveport, La., Dec. 31, 6:30 p.m. MT, ESPN

- At-large vs. SEC No. 5