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Sunday, August 26, 2012 - Page updated at 06:00 p.m.
WAC on life support as Seattle U comes aboard
By Bob Condotta
Seattle Times staff reporter
For now, all Seattle University can do is sit and wait.
The excitement that surrounded the school's invitation to the Western Athletic Conference in 2011 has since evaporated into a haze of uncertainty as the WAC continues to disintegrate even before the Redhawks play their first game.
Seattle U officially joined the WAC over the summer and will play its first athletic contest in the conference on Sept. 13, when it hosts New Mexico State in women's volleyball.
The conference, though, continues to implode. Commissioner Jeff Hurd told the Denver Post this week that he does not think it will be able to remain as a football conference beyond this season with five of the seven football-playing schools having already made plans to go elsewhere next year.
The exodus includes longtime members San Jose State and Utah State heading to the Mountain West. Idaho and New Mexico State, meanwhile, have uncertain futures but almost certainly won't remain in the WAC.
That leaves the three nonfootball-playing schools — Seattle U, Denver and Texas-Arlington — hoping the WAC can add enough schools to hang on as a nonfootball conference.
"There is a lot of shifting that continues to go on, and we think there will be more," Seattle U athletic director Bill Hogan said this week. "We hope to have some more resolution by the end of the summer, so we think in the next few weeks we will have more clarity."
All Seattle U really knows right now is that it will play the 2012-13 season in the WAC, its first in a conference that features automatic bids to the NCAA tournament. Schedules for this year are set and won't change.
Especially in its marquee sport of men's basketball, Seattle U needs membership in a conference with an automatic bid to compete at the level it desires.
Hogan said the history of the WAC — it is the sixth-oldest conference — and the notoriety it has earned through the years for its football was also a major draw.
"We found (its football membership and history) to be part of the attraction," Hogan said. "But if that goes away, which may be inevitable at this point, we kind of just make the most of being in a nonfootball, multisport conference, and we have plans to try to make that happen."
At Seattle U, 17 of the school's of 20 sports teams are in the WAC, with men's soccer, men's swimming and diving, and women's rowing not sponsored by the WAC.
The WAC would have to add two or three schools at least to remain as an automatic qualifier for the NCAA men's basketball tournament.
Hurd told the Denver Post this week he wasn't sure if that can happen.
"If we can't get enough league members, we can't operate as a conference," he said. "We're going to do everything possible to avoid that. There aren't any obvious answers out there."
Hogan said looking around for other options isn't as easy as it might seem. Other conferences have to want you as much as you want them, he said.
"For the most part, you don't really look around as much as people look at you," he said. "And if the timing is right and the fit is right, then you get an opportunity."
Seattle U happily accepted an invite to the WAC in June 2011 at a time when the conference had nine members and was hoping the conference shuffling had ended. Instead, it has only continued, and the WAC has too often been on the losing end, going from relatively healthy to life support since then.
Bob Condotta: 206-515-5699 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
On Twitter @bcondotta
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