While a newly formed membership committee searches for schools that will revitalize the Western Athletic Conference, the commissioner announced a new scheduling agreement with BYU.
"I'm confident that there are teams that will add value to the WAC in the future," stated WAC Commissioner Karl Benson, who said they will consider schools that do not have football programs, as well as those that do. "History has shown that teams that have joined the WAC have provided immediate benefits to the league and have themselves become better programs in a short time."
While both Fresno State and Nevada have expressed a desire to leave the WAC after this school year, Benson said the WAC bylaws prevent that. Each school would have had to let the WAC know by June 30 that they intended to leave the conference, which they did not. That means they cannot leave until after the 2011-2012 school year.
The WAC board of commissioners instructed Benson to send a letter to both Fresno State and Nevada demanding the $5 million buyout by Oct. 25.
The departure of those schools before 2011-2012 would devastate the remaining six schools, he said.
"It would cause irreparable financial harm to the remaining WAC schools," said Benson in a Wednesday afternoon teleconference. He said the BYU games announced earlier Wednesday would help fill the hole left by the departure of Boise State — which takes place next school year.
To try and fill voids left by Fresno State and Nevada "less than a year out would be nearly impossible," Benson said.
When asked about the whether or not the buyout clause lacked legal force because BYU did not join the WAC as the members believed they would when they signed it, Benson said no.
"It will be enforced," he said.
Benson said the WAC is considering any and all options when it comes to expansion.
"We will entertain all options, all membership models," he said.
"We are also announcing the creation of a membership committee that will evaluate prospective members," he said.
As the WAC intends to hold Fresno State and Nevada to the contract that requires them to participate in WAC sports until June 30, 2012, he doesn't anticipate adding new members until that time. He said the next six months will be critical to evaluation of new members.
A scheduling agreement with BYU for football will allow two WAC teams host BYU in their stadiums and three WAC teams travel to Provo in 2011. In 2012, BYU will play two games in WAC stadiums and host two WAC teams in LaVell Edwards Stadium. Utah State opted out of this agreement, as the Aggies already have an agreement to play football against the Cougars through 2012.
Idaho was the only WAC school that will not host a football game against BYU, and they will, instead, enjoy a home-and-home men's basketball series for the next two years. When asked why Idaho won't host the Cougars, Benson said it was BYU's decision.
Benson was excited about the agreement with BYU and said it gives the WAC a way to re-establish a relationship with the Cougars that goes back 50 years. WAC officials signed the agreement Sunday, while BYU signed it Tuesday at 7:30 a.m. He felt the agreement, which is only for two years, will be the beginning of a promising relationship for both BYU and the WAC.
The discussion with BYU didn't end when Fresno and Nevada decided to leave the WAC, but they were seriously hampered, he said.
"We tried to encourage BYU to give us some time to put the pieces back together," he said. "We felt, if given time, we could still be an attractive and valuable option for the other BYU sports."
Ultimately, BYU told the WAC they were revitalizing talks with the West Coast Conference. Those discussions, he said, had been going on long before the deal with the WAC.
The WCC doesn't have some of the sports BYU and the WAC sanctions and Benson said they "would certainly entertain" discussion on including those sports on WAC schedules.