It was a rather eventful Wednesday in the San Joaquin Valley.
BarkBoard.com started Wednesday morning at Fresno State football practice before 9 a.m. The last question we asked head coach Pat Hill before he embarked on the practice field was his comments on the rumor of BYU possibly seeking independent status in football and joining the WAC in all other sports. Hill told us he had no comment because he had heard nothing of it.
Less than 11 hours later, California State University Fresno president John Welty was in front of the Fresno media announcing that the university has excepted an invite to join, along with Nevada, the new 11-member Mountain West Conference. Welty believes BYU will remain in the MWC.
"Fresno State was certainly honored to be invited to be a member of the Mountain West Conference," said Welty. "I have notified commissioner Craig Thompson that we will accept the invitation that the MWC has provided to us and join that conference sometime in the next two years.
"We've always been and really since I've been at Fresno State, proud to be a member of the Western Athletic Conference. The WAC has allowed us to grow, allowed our program to be known nationally, and certainly has been a great supporter over the years. I want to thank all the members of that conference. Also, commissioner Karl Benson, who I think has done an extraordinary job and has been as creative as one can be leading the conference.
"But as you know, over the years I've said, that it's very important for us strength our program to stay strong. So that when opportunities become available to us, we're positioned to take advantage of those opportunities. "That's what I see, this invitation provides an opportunity for Fresno State to take another step, athletically, and also it's another step academically because the institutions that we join in the MWC are institutions that have quality academic programs.
"We look forward to the opportunity, today is a great tribute to Thomas Boeh, the administrative staff, the coaching staff, and above all our student athletes, who worked so hard over the last several years to lead us to different level of competition and achievement."
But the move does come with some stipulations.
Fresno State must pay an exit fee to the WAC. That agreement was put in place shortly after Boise State left for the MWC June 11. Fresno State and the remaining WAC members were asked to sign the agreement.
Nevada president Milton Glick told the Reno Gazette Journal that Nevada, as well as the other WAC schools except Boise State, agreed to – but did not sign – a buyout clause last week. He would not say how much that is, but multiple reports Wednesday had it at $5 million.
"There's lots of numbers flying around out there, like I said, it wouldn't be very fruitful of me to talk about it because it's in open discussion," Fresno State athletic director Thomas Boeh said in regards to the buyout.
"These agreements are incredibly complex, there are so many dynamics, and money is just one of them. The other dynamics, the other components of the agreement will affect sometimes the money. I full expect we'll have some good fruitful conversations with the WAC here in the coming days and weeks. Hopefully, we can get things figured out here reasonably.
Boeh said the initial goal was to forecast the future of the WAC to strengthen the conference to the point that another institution wouldn't bolt for another league.
"Like Dr. Welty mentioned, I think Karl Benson did a great job of pulling some very creative things together," said Boeh. "In the end, long term as you look at, this is the best move for Fresno State. Obviously, Nevada has made the same decision and Boise has made the decision."
Boeh explained that agreeing to the buyout is part of the maneuvering schools do to position them for conference realignment. "I've said it before, said it even to our staff, there's a lot of discussion, for a decade there's been a discussion to go to the MWC or another conference," added Boeh. "We have said repeatedly we need to strength the program to the point that when it came time and there was an opportunity for some movement, president Welty would be best positioned to discuss for our institution."
"So with that, we are going to strengthen our program to position it. But if a move is deemed appropriate, the president could make that move. However, until then we are members of the WAC. As members of the WAC, throughout the past months, we were going to be very supportive of whatever actions the league was going to take to strengthen itself. Right up to the time, we are not going to be member.
Well, that time came Wednesday.
Welty said the official invite to the MWC came Tuesday afternoon. MWC commissioner Craig Thompson said the official invite went out on Wednesday. Regardless, it seems BYU's eagerness to pursue independent status in football and possibly join the WAC in non-football sports prompted the MWC to invite Fresno State and Nevada.
Thompson maintained BYU's plans had nothing to do with the hasty invitations to Fresno State and Nevada. Instead, he pointed to a recent meeting with its television collaborates – Comcast, Versus, and CBS College Sports – as the additions of the Bulldogs and Wolf Pack will improve the television appeal of the MWC with increased market size and growth potential.
The commissioner said it was a unanimous vote by the MWC programs to expand, and he is going forward with the MWC as an 11-team league with Boise State, Fresno State, and Nevada joining Air Force, BYU, Colorado State, New Mexico, San Diego State, TCU, UNLV, and Wyoming. In spite of the Cougars ventures to pursue other opportunities outside the conference, Thompson maintains BYU has been involved in the expansion process.
"They have been participating in all board calls throughout this week, the last couple days, including today, they know what we're doing," Thompson said. "BYU has been a full participant the last 36, 48 hours in all these calls and conversations.
"They know who we are. Same as the Utah, an institution is allowed to make any decision they want much as Nevada and Fresno State did with the WAC today. We do not, in our conversations we've had with our board of directors, they are leagues that have made perhaps concessions to certain members to keep them in the league, but that's not what the MWC has done."
Thompson may have indirectly pointing to the buyouts Fresno State and Nevada are facing for defecting. Boeh didn't seem fazed by the agreement. He believes the details will be worked out to appease all parties in the near future.
"That's what you do when you are in a conference, you support each other," Boeh said in regards to the exit fee agreement. "We'll work on all those other things. Those kinds of agreements, those kinds of buyouts, those happen everywhere. We'll work that all out probably with the help of a handful of attorneys, our general counsel from our university, and certainly the general counsel from the WAC and Nevada. We'll be discussing this in the future."
Meantime, Fresno State must find also find a way to pay a MWC entry fee that could be as much as $1 million. Thompson hinted that the fee could be altered to not break the bank of the incoming programs.
"That is something that is still being negotiated," Thompson said of the entry fee. "Basically, the commitment is once it's determined what cost is to leave the WAC then the next step is to reconvene the board to work with Fresno State and Nevada to determine a fair an equitable entrance.
"Again, our intent is they come in as strong as they are today and are not jeopardized or put behind in any way that would not allow them at the highest level. We want them to come in strong."
The conference may chip in and pay some of the buyout as well.
"I'm not going to get into our financial model," Thompson explained about helping pay for the exit fees. "But we have substantial revenues from NCAA Tournaments, our own tournaments, from televsion revenue, from bowl games, from the BCS, reserved fund. We distributed $26.5 million this year...can't tell you which line item it might come from."
The Bulldogs could make the move to the MWC as early as the fall of 2011 or the fall of 2012 at the latest. President Welty and Thompson both said on Wednesday that they prefer a start in 2011.
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