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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, November 1, 2006

Utah State struggling, but happy

By Ferd Lewis
Advertiser Columnist

 •  Glanville's Big Bag Theory

You will hear only high praise about the Western Athletic Conference from the happy-to-be-here Utah State Aggies.

Not so much as a complaint about long haul road trips in the nation's most dispersed conference. No gripes about television or much of anything else.

For Utah State, two seasons into WAC membership, appreciates its new home in ways once felt in Hawai'i nearly 30 years ago.

As the Warriors head to Logan, Utah for Saturday's football game, the 1-7 Aggies know even their present situation, tied for seventh place in the nine-team WAC at 1-3, beats where they were before or might otherwise be right now.

"The WAC has been really great for us," said athletic director Randy Spetman. "It was essential for us to get there at this time or we could (have been) in jeopardy of maintaining our Division I-A status."

The once-proud Aggie program had become a downtrodden nomad in recent years, running through four affiliations in seven years and no winning seasons to show for it. When the Big West dropped football after 2000, the Aggies went independent. When that took its toll, driving home the point that independence works primarily for Notre Dame, Utah State desperately joined the Sun Belt for two years.

None of it resonating with fans who grew tired of the Aggies being punching bags for paychecks at Nebraska, Louisiana State and Iowa. Nor was there any sense of connection with the backroad Sun Belt lineup. "Not to demean any of those schools, but our fans didn't know where Troy and Louisiana-Monroe were," Spetman said.

Hawai'i struggled as an independent before being admitted into the WAC in 1979, but at least UH had teams willing to come play here. Logan held no such fascination for visitors.

When the WAC, losing Texas-El Paso, Rice, Southern Methodist and Tulsa, dialed the Aggies' number, it was like being embraced by the old flame that had never acknowledged them. "Utah State had been working for 40 years to become a member of the WAC," Spetman said.

Indeed, the Aggies had expected to be a charter member of the WAC in 1962 when they, not Utah or BYU, were the power in the Beehive State. But Aggie conspiracy theorists to this day blame skullduggery by their instate rivals for the exclusion. They maintain it is no coincidence that only after Utah and BYU left was an invitation forthcoming.

Now, with sponsorships growing and new facilities rising, the Aggies have a lot of catching up to do.

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