The Mountain West Conference finally took a tangible step toward expansion, while the Western Athletic Conference voted to keep a league rule Hawaii was unable to comply with last year.
The actions came today as both conferences concluded board of directors meetings in California.
The MWC voted unanimously to lift a membership moratorium that was to last until 2005. The conference is now expected to begin looking seriously at inviting from one to four schools to join the eight team conference; the candidates include WAC members Boise State, Fresno State, Hawaii and Nevada.
The Mountain West will bide its time and any invitations are not expected to be extended until October at the earliest, a source close to the situation said.
WAC commissioner Karl Benson said his league is also exploring expansion.
"(The MWC vote) doesn't surprise me," Benson said.
"Coming out of our board meetings the WAC is also very interested in looking at our membership and if there are opportunities to improve the WAC," added Benson. "It's all still speculation. The fallout and dominoes might still not occur. If not, it doesn't mean we wouldn't look at expanding our membership. We would view expansion regardless of what was happening in the ACC and the Big East. But that heightens the possible inventory of available teams."
While it is likely that Miami, Boston College and Syracuse will leave the Big East for the Atlantic Coast Conference, it is unclear what happens after that. Do other conferences rush to the magic number of 12 members in hopes of attaining a piece of the BCS pie? Does Conference USA get picked apart like a day-old Thanksgiving turkey?
Benson said events in the east could make "schools attractive to us" available. He declined to say which ones, but Houston, Tulane, Texas Christian and Southern Miss have come up on more than one occasion from more than one source.
His ultimate goal is to build a 12-team league, facilitating East and West divisions (which would ease travel costs) a league championship football game and baseball tournament. Since the WAC has 10 members (nine, if San Jose State doesn't meet the 2005 requirements), this is still possible with a defection or two.
The biggest news out of the WAC meetings today is the board upheld the six-credit rule that Hawaii had such a hard time dealing with last year. The vote to keep the rule came despite a recommendation from the WAC council (athletic directors, faculty representatives and senior women's administrators) to rescind it.
In essence, the rule requires schools to certify that its athletes in postseason competition passed at least six credits in the just-completed term.
Because the ConAgra Foods Hawaii Bowl was only a few days after the completion of the fall term, UH officials did not certify the football team, citing logistical difficulties. Hawaii was reprimanded by the league and fined $5,000. After an emergency meeting, however, the rule was dropped for the spring semester when it appeared at least one other school might run into the same type of problem.
"The (board) believes it's an important piece of academic reform and one that can be applied and implemented," Benson said. "The board is unanimous in support of the rule. I've been assured all 10 schools are prepared to (follow the rule)."
UH's board representative, Manoa Chancellor Peter Englert, was unavailable for comment after the vote today. So was athletic director Herman Frazier, who was returning from the mainland.
The bigger long-term question is does Hawaii end up staying where it is or accepting an invitation to the Mountain West ... assuming one is forthcoming.
While the WAC may seem to have more problems, the Mountain West has its share.
It has only the eight schools that broke away from the WAC five years ago. That's by design, and good when it comes to divvying up TV money, but for scheduling purposes it is operating without a safety net; Wyoming could have problems meeting NCAA requirements for continued Division I-A membership in 2005. Seven is not a lucky number in this case.
Englert said yesterday the topic of schools coming and going from the WAC was discussed.
"But we're not in a position to make any statements about it yet," Englert said. "Nothing was voted on."
Fitting for a league long known for high scoring, Benson is employing the best-defense-is-a-good-offense strategy. Instead of publicly worrying about the league being cherry-picked by the Mountain West, Benson talks about building a better WAC.
The biggest advantage the Mountain West has over the WAC is its better ESPN television contract. But Benson said this is evening out, as Hawaii and Fresno State have blossomed as fairly attractive national TV draws.
"When we go through our renegotiations and they go through theirs, the two conferences will be equal in exposure and rights fees," he said.
After yesterday's meetings, Benson -- who, along with the league he runs, survived disaster five years ago -- put on the happy face ... with a touch of fighting attitude.
"Our meetings went well. Our board of directors are positive about our future and optimistic," he said. "(Benson's confidence) is a matter of the WAC having proven itself as an established conference. We don't need to be taking a back seat to the Mountain West. The WAC has proven it's just as good, if not better."
Most of the key players for UH -- with the notable exception of president Evan Dobelle -- say the same thing publicly.
But Englert implied yesterday that conference loyalty only goes so far, and not just for UH.
"You can tell everyone is under some pressure to do the right thing when the time comes," he said.
The Bear may be dead but he still hates Tennessee. Roll Damn Tide