College Basketball Nation: Karl Benson

1. Illinois coach Bruce Weber has had multiple chances to leave. In hindsight, he should have gone. Weber will get paid millions if he’s out at season’s end. His comments after Wednesday's home loss to Purdue sounded like those of a defeated coach. I’ve said this many times. He’s a good man, who simply stayed too long in a high-pressure situation. If I were an athletic director at a Missouri Valley school, I wouldn’t hesitate to hire him.

2. Karl Benson had no choice but to abandon ship and go after the Sun Belt commissioner’s job. He will be announced later Thursday as the league's new commish. Benson had stayed true to the WAC, despite being betrayed multiple times by league members – most recently Nevada and Fresno State. Had they kept a promise and stayed, Benson had BYU, and the WAC would have been saved. Instead, the Mountain West survived for a bit before “merging” with Conference USA. Benson had done all he could do with the remaining WAC schools. The end is near for that league.

3. Benson’s decision to leave the WAC for the Sun Belt makes me wonder even more what Boise State was thinking in putting its men’s basketball program in the WAC. There is zero stability in the WAC going forward; the Broncos might have been better off pleading with the WCC to house their programs in the all-private-school league and at least be a partner with BYU.

Karl Benson: WAC a future multi-bid league

July, 14, 2011
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Texas-Arlington after accepting an invitation to join the WAC in 2012 declared Thursday on its website, "It's a whole new ball game." WAC commissioner Karl Benson, speaking to reporters, called the basketball-playing school's addition part of the "evolution of the new WAC."

The WAC is now up to 10 members for the 2012-13 season. Benson has attempted to rebound from a mass exodus of schools with the additions of Denver, Seattle, Texas-Arlington, Texas State and UT-San Antonio.

In adding to the membership, Benson believes that means the WAC will become a more consistent player for NCAA tournament bids and NCAA tournament wins in the future.

"The WAC will return as a multiple-bid conference," he said.

Two WAC teams went to the NCAA tournament as recently as 2010, but it took a New Mexico State upset of Utah State in the conference tournament to get it done. Then this past season Utah State, after dominating the league in a down year, found out the hard way how difficult it can to get a good seeding coming out of the WAC. They managed just a No. 12 seed despite 30 regular-season wins.

Benson derives his confidence in more WAC teams consistently making the NCAA tournament and improving their RPI based upon road wins that might come easier beginning in 2012. It's these wins that are more heavily weighted in RPI, and Benson thinks teams will be able to rack up more of them with a 10-member conference.

Now that the league has the right amount of teams to form travel partners [Louisiana Tech/Texas-Arlington, Texas State/UT San Antonio, Idaho/Seattle, San Jose State/Utah State, and Denver/New Mexico State], it allows for reduced travel costs, less missed class and the stability of Thursday-Saturday scheduling.

"While it's always difficult to win on the road, we believe this will allow our top teams to improve their RPI," said Benson, adding that it would help WAC teams do better in the NCAA tournament and generate revenue previously left on the table.

With 10 teams, a WAC team would play an 18-game league schedule. It is also Benson's hope to eventually expand to 12 teams and form two divisions.

Adding a Texas-Arlington program from the Southland Conference that went 13-16 this past season won't generate a huge amount of buzz, but the Mavericks will enter the conference with a new 6,500-seat arena that is scheduled to open next year.

"This day will long be remembered at UTA," athletic director Pete Carlon said in a statement. "We are excited to make the jump into the WAC and into a FBS (Football Bowl Subdivision) conference. I know our entire university community is looking forward to our future in the WAC as we move more to a national stage."

Seattle a conference tourney destination?

July, 1, 2011
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Today was a big day for the Pac-12 with the official additions of Colorado and Utah to the conference. It was the culmination of a lot of work put in by commissioner Larry Scott to change the face of the league. Everything from its membership and television deal to its logo and website is now different.

The next step? Figuring out what to do about the Pac-12 tournament, which has lacked buzz in recent years while being held at Staples Center in Los Angeles. Scott told the San Jose Mercury News that eight to 10 cities have expressed interest in bidding to host the 2013 tournament and that he isn't committed to any model at this time.

That could mean the end of the tournament in Los Angeles, the use of rotating sites or even a neutral city like Las Vegas, which currently hosts three conference tournaments for the Mountain West Conference, WAC and WCC.

A new city that's emerging as a viable possibility is Seattle, and according to the Seattle Times, the city will submit a proposal to host the Pac-12 tournament at KeyArena.
"We're excited about the opportunity to bring a tournament that could have a great impact not only just for the Seattle Center and KeyArena, but also the surrounding community," Marc Avery Jones, Director of Marketing and Business Development at the Seattle Center.

KeyArena is the home of the Seattle University men's basketball team and Gonzaga's annual Battle in Seattle.

KeyArena offers an attractive NBA-level arena like Staples and also a local fan base that wants to watch top-level basketball in the city. It's a desirable destination. When it was announced that Seattle University would join the WAC in 2012-13, commissioner Karl Benson immediately made it known he would consider KeyArena as a potential site for the WAC tournament as well.

So maybe Seattle after losing its NBA team can soon offer some basketball action aside from the Washington Huskies, who would love the tournament to move there. The conference tournament possibilities are still in the formulation stage, but they are ideas worthy of serious consideration.

Seattle looks forward to the WAC

June, 14, 2011
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Those road trips to Logan to play Utah State are never easy, but Seattle coach Cameron Dollar can't wait. When his team joins the Western Athletic Conference for the 2012-13 season, he wants the challenge of going up against the best and shooting for the NCAA tournament.

"If you want to climb to the top, you gotta play the big dogs," he said Tuesday after WAC commissioner Karl Benson announced Seattle had accepted the league's invitation.

"Where we want to go, we need to be competing on par, competing with teams of the caliber of the WAC. The WAC is a nationally known entity. To be connected with that does nothing but great things for us. They’ve proven they can provide a platform for us to take our program nationally."

While currently an independent, Seattle has enough resources that Benson even hinted that the program could be a Gonzaga in the future. The Redhawks play in a former NBA facility at KeyArena. They have a name coach in Dollar, the former UCLA Bruin. Seattle is also a destination city.

"At this time, the WAC believes Seattle U has the academic characteristics, the athletic characteristics and the media market," said Benson, adding that KeyArena would be considered as a site for the WAC tournament in the future.

Seattle's program has had success in the present and the past (does the name Elgin Baylor ring a bell?). In the past two years, they've played a Division I schedule and have been bothersome for many teams. They have picked up wins against Oregon State (twice), Utah, Virginia, and also current WAC teams Fresno State and Idaho.

The WAC will change dramatically by the time Seattle joins in 2012 along with Denver, Texas State and UT-San Antonio. The conference is losing Boise State, Fresno State, Hawaii and Nevada.

The league declined to extend an invitation to Utah Valley, but Benson did say the addition of Seattle certainly did not preclude the league from considering non-football-playing members for future membership. Benson also prefers to add one or two more football-playing schools.

For now, the WAC stretches from Seattle to Louisiana Tech. All that means a lot of traveling for the Redhawks, who have done their share of it during a successful stint as an independent.

"Travel for us, we've experienced all the travel you need," Dollar said. "It'll be fun to have a conference schedule, to have more of an opportunity to be on TV. I have great respect for the teams in the league."

WAC's Karl Benson comes out firing

August, 19, 2010
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WAC commissioner Karl Benson came out strong Thursday, claiming the Nevada and Fresno State presidents committed a “selfish act” when they went back on an agreement to keep the league together, only to accept an invitation to the Mountain West a few days later.

Benson pointed out that in a 12-hour period the WAC went from a secure and prosperous future to an unknown-at-best future. He said the agreement that was signed by seven of the remaining eight schools was done after a call last Friday in which the schools were given assurances that Brigham Young would join the league in all other sports except football (while agreeing to a scheduling partnership in football). BYU planned on playing Fresno State, Hawaii, Nevada and its traditional rival Utah State outside the WAC.

Benson said a recording error meant that Nevada president Milt Glick didn’t sign the agreement, but that the WAC legal counsel has determined that Glick’s verbal agreement to the binding terms meant the Wolf Pack were bound to the deal. Benson said Glick missed the call on Friday and gave a verbal agreement over the phone Saturday. The deal, which Fresno State president John Welty and the other six schools signed, called for a payment of $5 million if a school left within the next five years. Benson said he has signatures in the WAC office from seven of the eight presidents.

According to Benson, WAC legal counsel expects payment within 60 days, which is part of the agreement. He also said the schools missed the July 1 filing deadline to leave for the MWC for the 2011 season, so he expects Fresno State and Nevada to be in the WAC for two more seasons. Boise State did meet the July 1 deadline for departure and will leave for the 2011 season. That means the WAC would be a nine-team league in 2010, an eight-team league in 2011 and 2012 and then a six-team league in 2013, although that could change if the WAC decided to add new members.

Benson said the remaining WAC schools had a conference call Thursday morning to discuss staying together and all were committed to do so. He said he has reached out to BYU since Fresno State and Nevada left and will continue to have ongoing negotiations to see if it’s still viable for the Cougars to join the remaining WAC schools.

“We hope that there is still an opportunity to structure an arrangement to allow BYU to be a part of the WAC in some shape or form and we’re open to any of those discussions,’’ Benson said.

He added that initial talks with BYU occurred in late July when both parties came together. This was after Boise State had elected to leave the WAC for the MWC.

Benson said the MWC’s new interest in Fresno State and Nevada after deciding against inviting both schools earlier in the summer was a “direct result of BYU’s interest in going independent in football and joining the WAC.’’

He said there’s been an understanding that with Louisiana Tech’s proximity to Conference USA schools in Texas and the Southeast, it would be natural for Louisiana Tech to look at that conference. But now the WAC needs the Bulldogs to stay put in order to remain at six members, a key component in maintaining automatic bids to major sports.

NCAA spokesperson David Worlock told ESPN.com that the WAC will keep its automatic bid to the NCAA tournament if it is a six-team league in 2012. Under NCAA rules, a conference has a two-year grace period to be a six-team league after it loses members. So that means if the WAC is at six teams in 2012-13 and 2013-14, it would have until 2015 to add a seventh member. The other rule is that the remaining six schools have to have been together for five continuous years. If Fresno State and Nevada get out of the WAC after 2010-11, the WAC would have 2012 and 2013 to be a six-team league before needing to add a seventh by 2014.

Benson said the remaining six schools, though, aren’t bound to the agreement since Fresno State and Nevada left. They are free to leave, although for now they have pledged allegiance to stay together and receive the $10 million combined.

Benson said the WAC would look to I-A and I-AA members and mentioned schools like Sacramento State, Cal Poly, UC Davis, Montana, Texas-San Antonio, Denver and Texas State. He said any reports that the WAC was offering invitations to San Diego State and UNLV were inaccurate. He said the addition doesn’t have to be a football-playing member, although the league has had success fostering football programs going from I-AA to I-A (Nevada, Boise State, etc).

Benson said his motives in securing BYU for all sports except football and a scheduling agreement was to secure the future of schools like Hawaii, Fresno State and Nevada. Yet, like in 1998-99 when eight schools split off from the then 16-team WAC to form the MWC, he said there was betrayal involved.

“There are similarities,’’ Benson said. “The role of the college presidents in 1998 in the shadow behind closed doors was a surprise. This had the same element, especially in light of the declared commitment last weekend. There was a similarity in the way this was done.’’

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