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July 23, 2007
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Benson says WAC is moving on up

SAN JOSE, Calif. - Every year commissioner Karl Benson talks to the media prior to the start of the football season, and extolls the virtues of the Western Athletic Conference.

He was more upbeat than usual this season because of what the conference accomplished last year, and the overall progress the conference is making as a whole.

Here are some of the key points of Benson's message to the media:

• The WAC has moved up to the No. 2 conference in the West behind the Pac-10 in Benson's opinion. The WAC has moved ahead of the Mountain West Conference, especially in football because of head-to-head success and the success of Boise State.

The WAC won seven of the 12 meetings last season, including San Jose's bowl win over New Mexico. The Spartans, Boise State and Nevada all went 2-0 against MWC teams in 2006.

"It's very rewarding to see the resiliency of the conference, and what it's overcome," said Benson, who was commissioner when the WAC went from 16 teams down to eight back in the late '90s. "The WAC is the second-most recognizable conference in the West. The Mountain West is a conference we need to compete against."

Benson credited the athletic director at Hawai'i and Fresno Sate with keeping the WAC solvent in tough times.

The conference also has two top candidates in the this year's Heisman race - Hawai'i's Colt Brennan and Boise State's Ian Johnson. Nobody in the MWC rates as much attention as either WAC star.

It's a big reason why this Media Day has become so big. There are a few national writers in town to file features on the two Heisman candidates.

Dave Chaffin, WAC assistant commissioner, said this year's event has the most media members since the conference shrunk from 16 schools.

The WAC also had the distinction of having two teams - Boise State football and Nevada men's basketball - ranked in the top 10 in their respective sports, something which the Mountain West didn't do.

• The WAC has a solid television schedule, the best since the 1998 season, according to Benson.

The MWC left ESPN to establish its own regional TV contract, and many of the MWC games can't be seen by many fans at the MWC schools. Not a good thing by any means.

Benson said of the 12 WAC games that will be televised, 11 will be on either ESPN or ESPN2. Benson said nine of the 11 will be conference games.

The only negative on the TV front is that Benson confirmed that discussions to extend the television contract with ESPN have broken down in the last six weeks.

"ESPN did want to extend," Benson said.

The breakdown again will affect the meager men's basketball TV schedule. When the WAC failed to move a game as per ESPN wishes, the cable network didn't show any WAC Monday Night games as it had done the previous year.

The men's basketball in the WAC continues to be the most underexposed sport, according to Benson.

• There has been a change with regards to the Sheraton Hawai'i Bowl, according to Benson.

Originally the bowl would rotate between Conference USA and the Pac-10 as the opponent for the WAC team. The Pac-10 will supply teams in 2008 and 2009.

Certainly a Pac-10 team would be a better draw in Hawai'i given the geographic nature of the conference.

• Fresno State's football motto has been "Anytime, Anywhere", and it's something that propelled the Bulldogs into national prominence.

Benson said that Boise State's schedule philosophy works well, too.

"A lot of people wondered if Boise's schedule was strong enough to make it into the top 12 (and be bowl eligible)," Benson said. "What it proved is that a balanced schedule works, and that you don't have to play teams in the top 30 or 40, that you can make it to No. 12 with a balanced schedule."

• Contact Darrell Moody at dmoody@nevadaappeal.com, or by calling (775) 881-1281.

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The Nevada Appeal Updated Jul 24, 2007 03:01PM Published Jul 23, 2007 03:00AM Copyright 2007 The Nevada Appeal. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.