The new conference being created by BYU, Utah and six other schools that are set to secede from the WAC next year has gained some serious momentum of late.

In the past week, the departing eight has announced that a separation agreement with the WAC has been reached - freeing them to pursue television and bowl deals - and that a name for the new league is on the verge of being selected.Then last Saturday, Colorado State, another breakaway school, brought much-needed respect to the breakaways by capturing a big intersectional victory over Michigan State on the road.

Meanwhile, fans of the defecting schools are apparently jumping on the new conference bandwagon.

A recent Deseret News poll conducted by Dan Jones & Associates reveals that 63 percent of Utah residents believe the defection by the Utes and Cougars is a positive step for both schools.

"This will be a phenomenal move for BYU and Utah," said Nathan Kirkham, a Salt Lake City resident and Ute fan. "The old WAC, which essentially is what the new conference will be, is definitely better than the 120-school WAC."

"The WAC, especially in football was taking a beating. It never got respect in the national press," said Cougar fan Eric Murdock, who lives in American Fork. "The BYU-SMU game was a throwaway. It wasn't worth it to get a babysitter to go see it. I didn't like the watering-down effect of the other teams had on the WAC. It added fodder to the anti-WAC sentiments out there."

With Colorado State meeting Colorado and BYU traveling to Alabama this weekend and other big non-conference games looming on the horizon, the breakaway schools will have additional opportunities to enhance their reputation as a legitimate football conference.

Though the majority of those surveyed are optimistic about the new conference's future, many believe that if the glamour conferences come knocking, BYU and Utah should listen to offers.

Thirty-six percent said they would favor a move by Utah to the Pac-10 or Big 12, while 34 percent would oppose it. The numbers for BYU were similar (35 and 31 percent, respectively).

Utah fan

"If the Pac-10 throws you the rope, you grab hold of it," Kirk-ham said. "Absolutely, they would have to go to the Pac-10. If you have the chance to go to the Pac-10, you run. This new conference is good but not progression. It's going back to the way things used to be."

In addition, 56 percent said they oppose the two schools splitting up into different conferences. Thirty-seven percent responded they would be willing to see the Utes and Cougars go their separate ways if it meant one of them having the opportunity to become members of either the Pac-10 or Big 12.

"To be selfish, as a Utah fan, I'd only want BYU to go if Utah went, too," Kirkham added. "As a local resident, no, I wouldn't want to see them split up. But if it serves the best interests of both teams, then yes."

"I am excited about the new conference, but I would be even more excited about the Pac-10," Murdock said. "I would love it. And as much as I enjoy the (BYU-Utah) rivalry, if there were ever a chance to go to the Pac-10 or Big 12, you have to go for the big-time conference. The bigger the conference, the better."

The possibility that the Pac-10 will extend an invitation to either BYU or Utah appears remote for the time being. Pac-10 officials have said the conference is not looking at expansion in the near future. Of course, should some conference shake-ups similar to what happened in the WAC occur, the Pac-10 could be interested in adding two more schools to its fold. Both BYU and Utah have been mentioned in numerous national media reports as potential candidates.

*****

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION

Deseret News sports poll

Eight schools, including Utah and BYU are breaking away from the 16-team Western Athletic Conference and creating their own conference starting next year. Which of the following best describes how you feel about this move?

Good for both BYU and Utah 63%

Bad for both BYU and Utah 9%

Good only for Utah 2%

Good only for BYU 3%

Don't know 23%

A poll of 407 adults statewide was conducted Aug. 18-20 by Dan Jones & Associates. It has a margin of error of +/-5.0 percent. Dan Jones & Associates is an independent polling firm whose clients include other organizations and sometimes political parties and candidates.

Copyright 1998 Deseret News.

Would you favor or oppose BYU leaving this newly-created conference to join a larger conference such as the PAC-10 or the Big 12?

Strongly favor 14%

Somewhat favor 21%

Somewhat oppose 17%

Strongly oppose 14%

Don't know 33%

And, would you favor or oppose the University of Utah leaving this newly-crated conference to join a larger conference such as the PAC-10 or Big 12?

Strongly favor 14%

Somewhat favor 22%

Somewhat oppose 20%

Strongly oppose 14%

Don't know 29%

If you answered yes to both questions: Would you favor or oppose splitting up BYU and Utah and them going their separate ways in order for at least one of the schools to join a larger conference?

Strongly favor 13%

Somewhat favor 24%

Somewhat oppose 26%

Strongly oppose 30%

Don't know 7%

A poll of 407 adults statewide was conducted Aug. 18-20 by Dan Jones & Associates. It has a margin of error of +/-5.0 percent. Dan Jones & Associates is an independent polling firm whose clients include other organizations and sometimes political parties and candidates.

Copyright 1998 Deseret News.

*****

Name game: New league tests possibilities

The transition committee of the new conference, with help from a Las Vegas advertising and public relations firm, is in the process of conducting an extensive test-marketing survey among booster groups in the eight breakaway WAC cities.

They are trying to gauge the level of interest in the three possible names for the league: American West Conference, Great West Conference and Mountain West Conference. Other suggestions are also welcome.

A final decision and announcement on the name could come as early as the next seven to 10 days, according members of the transition team.