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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Solidarity should be put to pen and paper

By Ferd Lewis

Like a lot of people these days, the Western Athletic Conference is waiting to see what happens with expansion over the coming months.

It was, we're told, a topic of considerable interest and speculation during the three days of annual WAC Council spring meetings that concluded yesterday in Phoenix.

Talk, yes. Wonder, yes. Action, no.

The hope is that when the WAC Board of Directors meets next month the presidents and chancellors who comprise it will find a way to be more proactive than reactive. For sure, we've seen far too much of the latter over the past 12 years and look at where it has gotten the WAC.

Which is why if this board is genuinely pledged to strengthening the conference, it should dust off an unused but potentially useful page from a past playbook.

Had the WAC Board taken commissioner Karl Benson's recommendation in 2002 and signed a so-called solidarity pact, the conference would be much better off today.

But the commissioner serves at the board's pleasure and all he can do is point it in the right direction. Back then Benson proposed the members agree to remain a part of the WAC for a minimum five years and any school that broke ranks pay a significant withdrawal penalty. Several were willing but without a consensus, no agreement was signed and the WAC eventually splintered with departures of Texas-El Paso, Rice, Southern Methodist, Tulsa, etc.

Under current rules a member must give notification of intent to withdraw by Sept. 1 the year before its departure and forfeit the interim year's royalties (bowl, NCAA basketball, TV money, etc.). In most cases, the penalty amounts to $1 million to $2 million, but could be more depending upon the Bowl Championship Series take.

Some conferences have much more stringent multi-year exit clauses such as the Big East, which is said to have a 27-month, $5 million withdrawal penalty.

If the WAC membership signed a similar agreement it would not only be the best chance of preserving the conference but could, also, potentially help upgrade it in the event of shakeups elsewhere. For example, if the Big 12 or Pac-10 poached from the Mountain West, it would make the WAC all that much more attractive to the MWC remnants such as San Diego State and Nevada-Las Vegas.

And, let's face it, the Pac-10 isn't going to come knocking on the door of UH or anybody else in the WAC any time soon. Few MWC scenarios suggest it will be romancing Hawai'i or the majority of the WAC right away, either.

How the WAC addresses this issue will say a lot about whether it sees the conference as a transit shelter or a place to build the future.