Western Athletic Conference commissioner Karl Benson announced Tuesday that the conference has filed a lawsuit against the University of Nevada, Fresno State University and the Mountain West Conference.
Benson said the lawsuit, which was filed on Sept. 9, is to determine the date that Fresno State and Nevada may terminate its membership with the WAC. Nevada and Fresno State accepted an invitation to join the Mountain West Conference on Aug. 18.
Both Fresno and Nevada have expressed a desire to join the Mountain West Conference for the start of the 2011-12 athletic season and intend to end its membership with the WAC on June 30, 2011. Benson said WAC by-laws prohibit Nevada and Fresno State from leaving until June 30, 2012 because the two schools did not inform the WAC that they would be leaving the conference until after a July 1, 2010 deadline.
"The WAC will not agree to an earlier departure date," Benson said. "The WAC notified both Fresno State and Nevada on Aug. 26 that their departure date would be June 30, 2012.
Benson said both Nevada and Fresno State have 30 days to respond to the lawsuit. The WAC is also hoping the lawsuit will prevent the Mountain West from scheduling games with Fresno State and Nevada for the 2011-12 season.
"Once they respond to the complaint, the court will issue a ruling fairly quickly," Benson said, "likely within the next 30 days, if not sooner."
Benson also said this lawsuit does not involve the issue of a $5 million buyout required from Nevada and Fresno to leave the WAC before June 30, 2012. "That is a separate issue," Benson said. "The 60-day clock on that matter has begun. Our expectation is that the WAC will receive that money within 60 days."
The WAC, Benson added, "has been put in a precarious position with regards to scheduling for 2011. The WAC is simply seeking to protect its interests and insure that all member institutions are protected from a potential and threatened violation of the bylaws. Such inappropriate action would make it impossible for member institutions to schedule athletic events and thereby would adversely affect the WAC, the WAC member institutions and the student-athletes."
Benson said the financial hardship the WAC would be under should Nevada and Fresno State leave the conference after the 2011-12 season would be difficult for the remaining six member institutions to absorb.
"The football schedule for the 20011 would be drastically challenging for the six remaining members," Benson said. "We also have obligations to our bowl partners which will be damaged by Fresno State and Nevada leaving. Our relationship with ESPN would also be affected. There are also BCS and WAC tournament implications."
Benson said that the athletic directors from Hawaii, Utah State, Louisiana Tech, Idaho, San Jose State and New Mexico State met twice last week to vote on whether to proceed with the lawsuit. Benson said that both Fresno State and Nevada were not informed of the vote or the possibility of a lawsuit.
"Once they stated their intentions to leave the conference, they forfeited their right to be present at future meetings," Benson said.
The WAC, Benson said, expects to have at least eight football-playing members for the start of the 2012-13 season. "That number could be 10, it could be 12," he said. "We're still in the early stages of evaluating new membership."