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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Benson has served WAC well

By Ferd Lewis
Advertiser Columnist

A Western Athletic Conference record that you're probably not familiar with but nevertheless one of significance will fall shortly.

Soon after next week's annual WAC Board of Directors meetings in Idaho, Karl Benson will conclude his 14th year and, in the process, become the longest-serving commissioner in the 46-year history of the nation's most far-flung collegiate athletic conference.

If that doesn't carry as much pop as, say, the WAC record for career touchdown passes, then please remember this is quite an achievement in a conference only slightly less fractious than Belgium with about 24 times the width.

This was a confederation of the desperate that was supposed to have withered and folded nearly a decade ago when the Gang of Eight (Brigham Young, Air Force, etc.) clandestinely plotted to stab the WAC in the back and dug out to form what became the Mountain West Conference.

Yet, the WAC still stands. Not too shabbily, either, as we have been reminded with back-to-back Bowl Championship Series appearances.

Members have come and gone and so, too, have most of the university presidents, chancellors and athletic directors. The one constant has been Benson, who has steered a disparate conference through its most troubled times. Often in spite of itself.

Meanwhile, UH, as the WAC's senior member, has prospered in the only conference that has jointly been a home for its men's and women's teams. UH has won championships and gained a remarkable measure of visibility for a school 2,500 miles off the beaten track. UH-Manoa Chancellor Virginia Hinshaw said, "I do know from my limited time as a member of the WAC that we have enjoyed a productive and supportive relationship (with Benson)."

Benson's hiring was announced after the presidents who form the WAC Board of Directors made the fateful decision to expand to 16 members in 1994. It was an expansion during which Benson's predecessor, Joe Kearney, stepped down and one which immediately brought up the question: Why would anyone want this job?

But, somehow, Benson did and he has, remarkably, stayed put. For how much longer we can only wonder. His contract runs through 2009.

Word is that Benson's Pac-10 counterpart, Tom Hansen, will announce retirement plans shortly. Hansen, who has been on the job since 1983, is the longest-serving commissioner in major college athletics and a force on the national landscape. The MWC's Craig Thompson and Benson are two names tossed around as possible candidates, though it is anybody's guess where the Pac-10 might look when it comes time.

Benson, a native of Washington state, will only say, "I'm happy where I am."

For the sake of the WAC and UH there are abundant reasons to hope so.

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