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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Sunday, January 4, 2004

Shuffles could affect WAC's I-A standing

By Ferd Lewis
Advertiser Staff Writer


What happens in the next round of conference realignment, where the dominoes could start falling again as soon as this month, might jeopardize the Western Athletic Conference's Division I-A standing.

"With the departure of Southern Methodist, Rice and Tulsa — and, maybe, Louisiana Tech — and the addition of New Mexico State and Utah State, not all of sports match up and we could be further from meeting the new (NCAA) requirement than we are now," WAC Commission Karl Benson said.

Effective Aug. 1, 2005, new NCAA legislation requires conferences to meet five benchmarks in order to retain Division I-A status.

For the WAC, the requirement of having its men's teams participate in a minimum six sports that the conference holds championships in is shaping up as a hurdle.

"The rule says you have to have eight members who play football and of those eight, they must sponsor a total of six sports that play under the WAC umbrella," Benson said.

Benson said the conference is in discussions with the NCAA about what a failure to meet the new benchmarks would mean. "Thus far the word back from the NCAA is that we would lose our spot at the NCAA Board of Directors," which sets policy. It might lose its seat on the NCAA Basketball Selection Committee since six of the 10 members have to be from I-A conferences.

"It isn't gonna keep anybody from any bowl games or anything like that," Benson said.

The University of Hawai'i has 20 teams — 12 for women, one coed (sailing) and seven for men. But of the seven men's teams, only five are in WAC sports: football, men's basketball, baseball golf and tennis.

Men's volleyball and swimming and diving do not currently count since they are played under the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation and National Independent Conference banners respectively, although the WAC is hoping that additional legislation might make volleyball applicable.

Athletic director Herman Frazier has said he is considering adding men's cross-country as the cheapest option for UH.

But if Louisiana Tech leaves the WAC for Conference USA, as has been speculated upon, the WAC would have the minimum numbers of participating schools in only four sports — men's basketball, football, golf and tennis.

Without Louisiana Tech, for example, the WAC would be left with just four baseball-playing members (Fresno, UH, Nevada and San Jose State). Of New Mexico State and Utah State, the two new members who come aboard in 2005, only New Mexico State has baseball but at least six members are necessary for the conference to retain its automatic NCAA Tournament bid.

"That's something we've been concerned about as coaches since we've only got six teams things are a bit shaky when you look at the dynamics of conference realignment," said Mike Trapasso, UH baseball coach.

With New Mexico State and Utah State but minus Louisiana Tech, the WAC would have five members in cross country, four in outdoor track and three in indoor track.

Mountain West Conference presidents are expected to meet this month to review expansion beyond their original eight members, a meeting that could come as soon as this week. MWC spokesman Javan Hedlund said he was "sure (expansion) will be discussed in some fashion," when the presidents gather, whether or not a vote is taken.

MWC commissioner Craig Thompson has endorsed expansion by one or two members and Texas Christian, currently a member of Conference USA, has been widely mentioned as the frontrunner. UH, Fresno State, Boise State and Nevada have also been mentioned.

If TCU should bolt, C-USA is said to be considering Louisiana Tech, Temple or North Texas as replacements.

The WAC, meanwhile, has looked at Idaho and North Texas as possible replacements for any departures, but neither of those schools field baseball teams.

Reach Ferd Lewis at flewis@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8044.