WAC commissioner Karl Benson knows a thing or two about expansion. He was the WAC commissioner when several members of the WAC broke off to form the Mountain West and now he’s readying himself for another change in the college football landscape.
He doesn’t know what Pac-10 or Big Ten expansion will mean for his conference, but he is working on identifying schools within the WAC landscape as well as keeping the ones he already has.
Benson took a few minutes this week to discuss expansion, Boise State and the WAC’s progress as a whole.
What are your concerns about how both Pac-10 and Big Ten expansion could affect the WAC?
Karl Benson: There’s always going to be a trickle down, the question is what happens above you and what moves are above you that then force decisions.
Have you guys looked at expanding your conference at all?
KB: I’ve always been a proponent that a 10-team league is better for better for basketball, nine team is better for football, but that if I had my druthers, I would rather work with a 10-team league than a nine-team league.
Obviously, there are a lot of questions surrounding Boise State and what it’s going to do. How do you prepare for something like that and do you have to have pieces in place that can move if Boise State decides to leave?
KB: There’s a limited number of current FBS schools within the WAC footprint, but history has always shown that there’s upward mobility in the West. Whether it was the Big West schools joining the WAC or the Big Sky schools joining the Big West that ultimately joined the WAC. All you have to do is look at the current WAC membership and see where they’ve been. History shows that there’s movement in the West. Outside of the Pac-10, there’s certainly been changes in the Western landscape and any Pac-10 movement will certainly affect both the WAC and Mountain West.
Do you think if the Mountain West loses teams that your teams then become the natural next choices for the Mountain West?
KB: Or do the Mountain West teams become the next choices for the WAC?
Good point. Do you see some teams swapping conferences if there is that trickle down effect?
KB: I don’t think it’s a matter of swap. I would hope that the WAC would have value and benefits that not only the Mountain West members might look at, but there’s other schools within the WAC footprint that belong to other conferences, too, right now. I think the ESPN piece that the WAC can deliver is tremendous value.
How much have you been in contact with Boise State in terms of what its future plans are regarding the Mountain West, the Pac-10 or any other possible suitors?
KB: Boise State administration has been very honest and forthcoming with their long-term desires. My job is then to provide all of our members with the best possible resources when it comes to television and bowls and postseason opportunities in all sports. And Boise State is certainly benefited from their membership in the WAC since 2000. The WAC has obviously benefited from Boise State. But I would hope that if and when an invitation comes that there would be an evaluation made that’s in the best interest of the university, and there would be recognition that the WAC has provided Boise State very well.
What are some of those desires that they’ve expressed to you?
KB: I can’t speak for the university.
Fair enough. Overall as a conference, you have to be happy with what some of your teams have been able to do. Obviously, the postseason wasn’t perfect with Nevada and Fresno State, but you guys seem to be maintaining a level of success. What is the next step for this conference to make it more attractive and give it that leg up?
KB: I’ve said several times that while we’ve had success at the top with three BCS appearances, and we could have very easily had a fourth in four years, we need to get stronger both in the middle and in the bottom half of the league. I think that we’ve seen improvement in Idaho and Utah State and New Mexico State. We need to see the traditional WAC -- Fresno State, Hawaii -- programs deliver. We’ve seen Nevada and San Jose State have success. I think the bottom line is that we need more top 50 teams from top to bottom and we need to eliminate the teams that are in the 90 to 120 range. The Mountain West has certainly had two great seasons of three teams in the top 15 and that that has allowed them to separate themselves at this juncture. We need that second and third team in the Top 25 and we need more teams in the top 50.