RENO - The Western Athletic Conference will appear four times on ESPN Big Monday broadcasts this season, and Nevada will be in the national spotlight twice.
Nevada will host Utah on Jan. 23 and Louisiana Tech on Feb. 30. On Jan. 30, Utah State will host Hawai'i. Fresno State hosts Boise State on Feb. 27. All four games will tip-off at 9:05 p.m.
The Wolf Pack have 13 games that will be televised this season, and that total doesn't include the WAC Tournament which will be in Reno March 7-11 or any possible ESPNU broadcasts.
"It's a tremendous opportunity to showcase the WAC," said Karl Benson, the WAC commissioner at Wednesday's WAC Media Day. "The WAC was one of the first to participate in Big Monday. We lost it for a period of time. I expect more next year.
"I anticipated an ESPNU schedule, too. College basketball usually schedules in advance. ESPNU is trying something different. They are trying to schedule two weeks at a time. They can get the best possible game. They have a better chance to get the best men's and women's games. I expect 4 to 6 ESPNU games selected on two weeks notice."
Benson indicated this is the last year of the contract with Sports West, which produces games on a regional/syndicated basis. Benson said that ESPN Game Plan will use as many WAC games that Sports West or a local television will produce.
"As the Mountain West departs ESPN (at the end of the season), the WAC will be the prime beneficiary," he said.
Nevada's Nick Fazekas is all for the exposure even at the expense of starting two hours later than normal.
"It's great," he said. "We don't get too many opportunities to do that. You just eat your pre-game meal later and it's more of a waiting around for the game to start."
Nevada coach Mark Fox has repeatedly stressed that the TV games give the conference much-needed exposure, and on the personal side it gives parents who live out of state a chance to see their sons play.
COACHES DON'T LIKE SCHEDULE
The nine-team conference is a tough one to schedule, and none of the coaches are ecstatic about this year's schedule.
Because of nine teams and TV appearances, which means no travel partners, games in the WAC are being played on Mondays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays.
In the past, WAC teams would play a traditional Thursday-Saturday schedule for the most part, and you would either be at home or on the road for both games. The new schedule does call for split weekends for teams, meaning they could be at home on a weeknight and away on a Saturday or vice versa.
"It's tougher," Fox said. "The travel is brutal. We play Boise on a Thursday night, and Hawai'i will come into Reno before we do."
Boise State's Greg Graham agreed.
"We have five split weekends; the most in the conference," he said.
Louisiana Tech's Keith Richard was much more politically correct. The Bulldogs are the Eastern-most school in the conference, and all of their trips except to Las Cruces will be lengthy.
"We knew this four years ago when we got into the conference," he said. Previously, the Bulldogs played in the Sun Belt Conference.
Benson knows that the coaches are frustrated.
"We knew it would be a challenge going in," Benson said. "We'll continue trying to work with it. Adding a 10th team will always be on the radar. There is an advantage to a 10-team league."
Benson said that he's had two or three inquiries about future openings in the league. The University of Denver has shown some interest.
"We are doing everything we can to build the WAC and make it a better league," Benson said.
Obviously, if the WAC is going to jump at a 10th school, the conference would like it to be in close proximity of another member, which would make it easier for basketball.
THE BIDS ARE IN
Benson also announced that the bids for the 2007 and 2008 WAC men's and women's basketball tournaments have been accepted.
Reno, Boise State and New Mexico State have submitted bids to host the tournament, and Benson said that the winner of the process will host the tournament for both years.
Reno is hosting the tournament this year, and undoubtedly it will come down to Reno and Boise.
The format for the tournament will be changed somewhat since there are nine schools instead of 10. The eighth and ninth-place teams will play each other in the first round with the winner advancing into the main bracket.
NEW OFFICIALS' BOSS
Benson announced that Bobby Dibler, a long-time official, was hired to assign basketball officials for the WAC.
Dibler also holds down the same job in the Mountain West Conference, and Benson said it wasn't until recently that the MWC would allow him to work for the WAC, too.
"He has the ability to strengthen our officiating," Benson said. "We tried to get it done several times before. The MWC was uneasy about it, but finally let it happen."
Steve Macy, assistant commissioner, said that Dibler is looking to pick up some officials from the Pac-10 to work MWC and WAC games on a regular basis.
Dibler was a WAC official for 20 years before he started assigning duties. He put in a five-year stint in the WAC from 1993 to 1998.