WAC Waits on Hawaii
Benson confirmed to FanHouse on Friday that his five conference presidents -- Utah State, Louisiana Tech, New Mexico State, San Jose State and Idaho -- had agreed Thursday afternoon to allow Hawaii to participate in the WAC as a football-only member and allow its other sports to play in the Big West.
Benson was going to inform Hawaii of the news Friday morning.
But late last night, Hawaii announced that the Mountain West Conference had contacted the school about a similar deal and that its bags were all but packed.
"We have a handshake, but we have yet to agree on the details," Hawaii president M.R.C. Greenwood said in a press conference Thursday evening. "The people of the state of Hawaii should be very positive about this and convinced that we have a bright future."
Benson said he was at the University of Denver basketball game last night when he received several phone calls and e-mails about the announcement. He called Hawaii at midnight mountain time to offer the WAC as a football-only option. Mountain West commissioner Craig Thompson called Benson this morning to make him aware of the Mountain West's plans.
"Craig informed me today that all they have done is a phone call or 'Are you interested?' and that it may take 30-plus days for the Mountain West to evaluate it," Benson said. "Until the television deal is completed, nothing is going to happen. The WAC has informed Hawaii that if it wants to be a football-only member in the WAC and take their other sports to the Big West, the WAC is willing to accept Hawaii as a football-only member."
When asked how Hawaii received the WAC's news, Benson said: "They recognized it, acknowledged, appreciated it. I guess the fact that they don't have an invitation and may not have one and whether that affects their decision-making process is unknown."
Greenwood, who is the president of the University of Hawaii system, and Hawaii's board of regents pushed for the Mountain West deal, according to the Honolulu Star-Advertiser. However, Virginia Hinshaw, Hawaii's chancellor, is the only person the five other WAC presidents have ever dealt with. Hinshaw was not quoted during Thursday's news conference.
Hawaii was reportedly unhappy with the WAC's current expansion, which included the additions of the University of Denver, Texas-San Antonio and Texas State. The WAC also was looking at Seattle as a possible non-football member and was in talks about reaching out to North Texas.
"The WAC was moving more geography-wise toward the middle of the country, which is more difficult for us on travel and more expensive," Hawaii athletic director Jim Donovan said during the press conference. Then he added that the new WAC would mean "having less and less known rivalries with teams that were going to be in the WAC."
According to the Star-Advertiser, the agreement with the Mountain West would include Hawaii providing travel subsidies to underwrite the costs of conference opponents traveling to Hawaii.
With Hawaii, the WAC has nine total members for the 2012 season -- eight in football and nine in basketball -- all of which are considered "core" members. However, according to the NCAA Division I bylaws, a conference needs to have six "core" members that have played together for five consecutive seasons in men's basketball in order to maintain an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament. Regardless of whether Hawaii plays football only or leaves altogether, as long as basketball is not part of the arrangement, the WAC will lose its automatic men's basketball bid for five years minus a two-year grace period as long as the conference membership stays at six.
Benson expects the NCAA to reexamine the rules on continuity of membership.
In football, the WAC needs to maintain a conference of eight to be recognized. Benson said after the announcement of expansion last week that both the conference's ESPN contract and its bowl agreements are up in the air. If the WAC loses Hawaii, it could end up with just one bowl tie-in should the contracts be readjusted for the 2012 season.
Benson said as of right now, there are no plans to invite new members and that the conference's focus is on keeping Hawaii in the WAC. Hawaii has played in the WAC for 32 years, making it the longest running member of the conference. The WAC has not given Hawaii a timetable to make its decision.
"Right now, there's no backup plan," Benson said. "Our first line of defense is to convince Hawaii to stay in the WAC. That's our backup plan right now."