Nevada, Fresno State accept invitations to Mountain West Conference
By JOE SANTORO and The Associated Press
The Nevada Wolf Pack is changing conferences once again.
The Wolf Pack has accepted an invitation to join the Mountain West Conference, university president Milt Glick and athletic director Cary Groth announced on Wednesday.
Fresno State also accepted an invitation to join the Mountain West on Wednesday, leaving the Western Athletic Conference with just six football-playing members (San Jose State, Louisiana Tech, New Mexico State, Idaho, Hawaii and Utah State) after this season.
Nevada and Fresno State are expected to join the Mountain West for the start of the 2011 football season. Another WAC school, Boise State, announced earlier this summer that it would also join the MWC in 2011.
“We have had a great experience in the WAC,” Glick said Wednesday. “We have appreciated the strong competition and the wonderful colleagues. The offer to join the Mountain West Conference is an opportunity we cannot turn down.”
ESPN.com reported on Wednesday that the eight WAC schools signed a $5 million buyout agreement after Boise State left the conference in June. The $5 million buyout reportedly is payable to the WAC if a school leaves the conference within the next five years. ESPN, though, also reported that Nevada agreed to the buyout but never signed the agreement. Fresno State, ESPN reported, did sign the agreement.
The Mountain West will look considerably different in the future than it does this season. In addition to adding Nevada, Fresno State and Boise State, the conference has lost Utah to the Pac-10 and BYU is reportedly considering a move to independent status for football and joining the WAC or West Coast Conference for its remaining sports.
The move to the Mountain West will reunite the Wolf Pack with its three greatest football rivalries in UNLV, Boise State and Fresno State.
“The Mountain West is a strong conference and this will enhance our natural rivalry with UNLV and continue our rivalry with Boise State,” Glick said. “We believe joining this conference is in the best long-term interests of our fans and program.”
Mountain West commissioner Craig Thompson didn’t waste any time in making sure the conference would remain strong if BYU decides to leave.
“The addition of Fresno State and Nevada further enhances the Mountain West Conference,” Thompson said. “Our board of directors has continued to be diligent and aggressive in executing our strategy for positioning the MWC in the national landscape. Both (Nevada and Fresno State) fit geographically and create new conference rivalries.”
Nevada, Fresno State and Boise State will join a Mountain West Conference that currently includes UNLV, Colorado State, San Diego State, New Mexico, TCU, Air Force, Wyoming and BYU (if BYU remains in the league).
Thompson said the expansion invitations weren’t a pre-emptive strike if BYU does decide to leave the conference.
But by adding Nevada and Fresno State, the Mountain West is clearly in a stronger position in future negotiations with the Cougars. And Thompson said the latest expansion will enhance the league’s television markets and increase its chances of earning an automatic bid to the Bowl Championship Series,
something the MWC has been pushing for.
“We’re simply looking at getting better and we got better tonight with Fresno State and Nevada joining our league,” Thompson said in a conference call Wednesday night.
Groth called the invitation to join the Mountain West Conference “an honor” for the Wolf Pack.
“Our relationship with the Western Athletic Conference has been a good one and we will greatly miss our colleagues in the WAC,” Groth added. “It has always been our goal to work actively to put the University of Nevada in the best position possible and we are excited to be a part of the Mountain West Conference.”
Wolf Pack basketball coach David Carter is all for the switch. He said earlier Wednesday that the best part would be playing UNLV twice every season on a home-and-home basis.
Carter says the Mountain West affiliation would give Nevada better name recognition on the West Coast, which in turn would help with recruiting.
Glick said the Wolf Pack’s move would either take effect next year or in 2012.
Fresno State president John D. Welty said the Bulldogs will join the MWC in 2011-12, although the Bulldogs later amended that to sometime in the next two years.
The news already made waves as Hawaii Athletics Director Jim Donovan is saying his school will look at options. Donovan told KITV Wednesday that Hawaii will look at remaining in the WAC and urging new schools to join it, become an independent school with no football conference membership or signing up with another conference.
But he says Hawaii’s distance from the mainland makes joining another conference problematic.
The Mountain West was founded in 1998 with eight former members of the WAC. TCU joined the conference in 2005.
The Wolf Pack joined the WAC for the start of the 2000 football season. It has previously been a member of the Big West Conference (1992-2000), Big Sky Conference (1979-92), the West Coast Conference (1962-79), the Far West Conference (1924-39 and 53-69) and the Pacific Athletic Association (1914-20).