Without TV contract, WAC has BracketBuster | NevadaAppeal.com

Without TV contract, WAC has BracketBuster

DARRELL MOODY
Appeal Sports Writer

The fifth annual BracketBuster is scheduled for this weekend, and reviews are mixed among the Western Athletic Conference as to its importance.

Four WAC teams – Nevada, Boise State, New Mexico State and Utah State – are in the official BracketBuster field, meaning their games will be televised on one of the ESPN properties.

For the rest of the WAC teams it will just be another non-conference game, ones that ESPN picked out for them.

Boise State hosts Albany on Friday night at 7 p.m. on ESPNU, Nevada hosts Northern Iowa of the Missouri Valley Conference on Saturday at 3 p.m.. on ESPN2, Oral Roberts hosts Utah State Saturday at 4 p.m. on ESPNU and New Mexico State hosts Ohio at 9 p.m. on ESPN2.

Coaches agree that this weekend’s exposure is good for the conference. The WAC might have the worst exposure in the nation, considering it is one of the top 10 conferences in the nation.

The lack of exposure stems from a failure between the WAC and ESPN to renew the basketball agreement over the summer. The breakdown in talks is football – and not basketball – related, according to commissioner Karl Benson

According to Benson, the WAC balked at football games being moved to ESPNU (from ESPN or ESPN2) without compensation to the schools. So, ESPN turned around and opted to not put the WAC on any Monday night telecasts. Those appear to have gone to the lowly West Coast Conference.

“The original purpose was to give the conference TV exposure,” Fresno State coach Steve Cleveland. “I think the fact that they are giving some exposure to the conference is positive in light of the fact that we virtually have no TV contract. Even though my team isn’t playing (on TV), there are teams in the conference who are and some exposure is better than none.

“I like the idea; the original format. We need to go back and re-acquaint ourselves with ESPN, and regardless of what the conference issues are, we need to get a TV package for men’s basketball.”

Cleveland also said that if an agreement can’t be worked out with ESPN, that the WAC should move in a different direction. Benson, however, said that ESPN still has exclusive rights to WAC games at the present time, though regional deals could be worked out.

San Jose State coach George Nessman agreed with Cleveland.

“I’m not a big advocate,” Nessman said. “I realize it’s important for the league. If we can get a TV deal, the BracketBuster is meaningless.”

For the schools on the tube, the event is a good thing. However, year in and year out, only the best schools get slotted for TV games.

“It’s a chance to show off the conference around the country,” Boise State coach Greg Graham said. “Our games will be seen back East. I think the exposure is good. That’s one reason we volunteered to play on Friday so we could be on TV.”

Nevada coach Mark Fox scoffed when asked if the 10th-ranked Wolf Pack had outgrown the event, which right now is specifically for mid-major teams.

“I don’t think we’ve outgrown it,” Fox said on Monday’s weekly WAC teleconference. “When it first started we all felt we had to win the BracketBuster game. We’re probably under the same approach now. We feel like we have to win the game for our conference.

“It’s been a lifesaver for us. Scheduling is so tough, it’s allowed us to add two home and home series each year, the return game and the BracketBuster game. We do need to play well as a conference.”

Fox said the event has gotten to a point where he would like to see some BCS-type schools participate.

One problem with the BracketBuster is that teams are designated home and away before the season starts, and this year the road teams weren’t as strong as the home teams.

Benson admitted that the match-ups didn’t turn out quite like he’d hoped.

“I’m disappointed there weren’t one or two more match-ups with the Missouri Valley,” he said.

The Nevada-Northern Iowa game is the only WAC-MVC battle over the weekend, and Northern Iowa’s recent slump has made that game a little less appealing to some, though Northern Iowa has made the NCAAs the last couple of years.

Benson pointed out that match-ups have to be decided three weeks out because of transportation issues. He said the only solution to that is if teams volunteered to be ‘wild cards’ and not have their fates decided until two weeks prior to the game. That could help get better match-ups.

IS NINE TOO MANY?

Having a nine-team conference makes scheduling difficult, and makes the conference tournament cumbersome.

Don’t expect that to change anytime soon, according to a couple of conference coaches and Benson.

“The coaches were unanimous,” Utah State coach Stew Morrill said. “The tournament should include the whole league. The odd-numbered teams and having a play-in situation makes it a little more cumbersome.”

“Without a doubt, coaches have always been for it,” Hawai’i coach Riley Wallace said. “They don’t want to leave anybody out.”

Wallace went on to say that when teams don’t have a chance to win the conference, the coaches want to at least make sure they are peaking in time for the tournament. Wallace’s team, in fact, is probably playing as good as anybody in the WAC right now.

Benson said one of the WAC’s main objectives is to get teams to post-season play, and having all nine teams entered in the post-season tournament gives all nine teams a chance of winning the tournament and getting the conference’s automatic bid.

Benson said that if the conference had 10 teams it would probably give byes to the first and-second-place finishers and have two play-in games.

CLOSE FRIENDS SQUARE OFF

Morrill and Wallace have been friends for a long time, and this week they will face off for the last time – at least as members of the WAC.

“We are good friends,” Wallace said. “That’s the bad part is that you have to go up against your friends. It will be fun one more time. It will be fun that we don’t have to do it again.

“When you play a Stew Morrill team, you have to be ready in every aspect of the game.”

WALLACE LOOKING

Wallace, who won’t be re-hired at Hawai’i, said he would still like to coach next year, and admitted that he has some ‘feelers’ out.

“I’m looking,” he said. “I haven’t made up my mind yet. The president at Centenary (his alma mater) called last week about the A.D.’s job. There are some things out there, and I’ll check them out when the season is over.”

Wallace, during his 20 years at Hawai’i, has won more than 300 games and taken the Warriors to three NCAA Tournaments (0-3) and six National Invitation Tournaments (8-6).

Hawai’i has won four of its last five in conference play prior to Monday night’s home game against New Mexico State, and a strong finish would make Hawai’i a strong candidate for the NIT.

CARROLL, PHILLIPS HONORED

To the surprise of nobody, Utah State’s Jaycee Carroll was honored as the men’s basketball player of the week.

Carroll averaged 36 points and nine rebounds per game last week, leading the Aggies to victories over New Mexico State and Idaho.

Against New Mexico State, Carroll scored a career-high 44 points and pulled down 10 rebounds in a 75-63 upset. He hit 12 of 16 from the field, including 5-for-7 from beyond the 3-point arc. He also knocked down 15-for-15 from the foul line. In the win over Idaho, he scored 28 points, hitting 11 of 19 shots from the field, including 7-for-15 from beyond the arc.

For the week, Carroll shot 66 percent from the field and 95 percent from the line. It is Carroll’s third WAC honor.

The women’s award went to USU’s Brittany Phillips, who scored 37 points to lead the Aggies to back-to-back road wins for the first time since 2004.

Phillips scored 25 points and pulled down 12 rebounds in last Monday’s win at New Mexico State, and added 12 points in a 57-53 win at Idaho.

•Contact Darrell Moody at dmoody@nevadaappeal.com or 881-1281