USA Today: SJSU Thanks WAC for Elevating Spartan Athletics

Is withering WAC facing its final season of football?

Posted by USA Today May 15, 2012.

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) – Mention the Western Athletic Conference to Hall of Fame football coach LaVell Edwards, and he thinks back to Brigham Young’s 1984 national championship with a junior quarterback named Robbie Bosco and a team that wasn’t even ranked when the season started.

It’s a high point that seems ancient history now.

The football conference that once was so big it spanned four time zones and required quadrants to arrange its 16 teams, is withering.

“I feel bad for the WAC,” said the retired Edwards, an assistant at BYU when it and five other schools banded together in 1962 to form the conference. “That was a great conference. It had a lot of teams that were coming on the scene, getting better all the time.”

This fall could very well be the league’s last as a football entity.

Hawaii, Fresno State and Nevada jump to the Mountain West this fall. In 2013, Utah State and San Jose State also leave for the Mountain West, while Louisiana Tech heads to Conference USA.

Texas-San Antonio will play this fall in the WAC but decided to jump to Conference USA for 2013 as well. Texas State also will play one season in the WAC before jumping to the Sun Belt in 2013.

That leaves two remaining football-playing members: Idaho and New Mexico State.

Trying to figure out where to go from here is interim Commissioner Jeff Hurd, who called the last few months hectic, frustrating and challenging and knows a decision that offers long-term stability, not just a quick fix, is needed soon.

He refuses to concede the WAC will become a non-football conference, though that is certainly an option.

He knows some already have written off the WAC.

“If the WAC goes bust, it won’t be from a lack of effort and lack of exploring every possible avenue there is,” said Hurd, who is working with a consultant, athletics administrators and the WAC’s board.

His belief is based on WAC history, specifically the 16-team conference’s split just three years after it became the biggest in the land.

“Every newspaper column I read (back then said the) WAC was done,” Hurd said. “It was done as a football league, was done as a conference, and couldn’t possibly survive without the schools that left.

“I think we not only recovered from that, but very nicely. I believe with every fabric of my being the same thing will happen. We can recover from this and rebuild.”

Hurd cited the Clint Eastwood movie —The Good, the Bad and the Ugly— when describing the 26 years he has been part of the WAC.

“The bad and ugly fall into the same category — primarily the constant movement the league has experienced over the past 15 years,” he said. “It seems to me if it’s not been a revolving door, it’s close to it. That’s been frustrating.”

While some see the WAC as the Rodney Dangerfield of conferences in that it gets no respect, it has had more than its share of success — and stars.

Steve Young (BYU), Marshall Faulk (San Diego State) and LaDainian Tomlinson (TCU) played their entire college careers in the WAC. Chad Hennings (Air Force, 1987) won an Outland Trophy; Ty Detmer (BYU, 1990) won a Heisman; and Hall of Fame basketball coach Don Haskins (Texas-El Paso) followed up his historic NCAA championship in 1966 by joining the WAC a year later and winning seven conference titles, mentoring players such as Nate Archibald and Tim Hardaway along the way.

In 1996, the WAC became so big, expanding from 10 to 16 teams, some — including BYU’s Edwards — thought it was too big.

“In retrospect, perhaps the WAC was ahead of its time,” Hurd said, pointing to the super-conferences of today. “The unfortunate part is it was never really given an opportunity to succeed.”

The 16-team alignment lasted just three seasons before Air Force, BYU, Colorado State, UNLV, New Mexico, San Diego State, Utah and Wyoming left to form the Mountain West Conference.

Boise State was added in 2001, but it left the league to play in the Mountain West starting in 2011.

The devastating blow, Idaho athletics director Rob Spear said, came when Fresno State and Nevada found a way in 2010 to get out of their agreement to stay in the WAC, “creating a tremendous amount of turmoil” within the league.

Other dominos would fall across the country, many driven by the lure of additional television revenue.

But it was the defections that gave “the perception of instability,” Hurd said.

That, in turn, made it more difficult to negotiate television contracts.

“It may not be all about money, but certainly money plays a very significant role in it,” Hurd said,

In other cases, “There’s almost a fear of being left out or left behind as conferences reconfigure.”

At this point, the ones left behind are the Aggies and Vandals.

Both schools could try independence, though that is a tough road.

The Big Sky definitely wants Idaho to become its 14th football-playing member, joining regional schools Idaho State, Eastern Washington, Montana and Montana State.

Commissioner Doug Fullerton said the Big Sky may be part of the Football Championship Subdivision, formerly known as Division I-AA— but he argues that it wouldn’t be a step down for Idaho.

He said the Vandals would become stronger in the FCS than at the bottom of the FBS “because they will become successful.”

As for the WAC, Fullerton wasn’t as optimistic. He said he can envision it disappearing completely in one year, or playing only basketball — but would be surprised, “barring major help,” if it remains an FBS conference.

Lawrence Fan, sports information director at San Jose State, was thankful to be among the nearly two dozen FBS schools nationwide with WAC ties.

“It’s all part of progress,” Fan said. “Without membership in the WAC, San Jose State would not be where it is today in Division I-A athletics. San Jose State needed the WAC, and the WAC extended its arms to San Jose State. That has to be remembered.”

The 1984 BYU team, meanwhile, still is hailed as the last school outside one of the major football conferences to win a national championship

“A lot of things fell into place,” Edwards, 81, said recently.

BYU pulled off a road upset of No. 3 Pittsburgh during ESPN’s first live college football broadcast, survived a nailbiter against Hawaii then rallied behind a beat-up Bosco to beat Michigan in the Holiday Bowl.

“If that same team would have played in the last two-three years, I think we would have been like TCU or Boise State,” Edwards said. “They were good. They got a BCS game, but never got a smell as far as a national championship game.”

SJ Mercury News: President Calls Mountain West Move “Just the Beginning of the Journey”

Mark Purdy: San Jose State gets its revenge by finally joining the Mountain West Conference

Published by the San Jose Mercury News May 4, 2012.

By Mark Purdy

Friday’s big announcement at San Jose State was not just a celebration.

It was revenge.

With speeches and balloons in a building adjoining the football stadium, SJSU officials declared that the school has accepted an invitation to join the Mountain West Conference (MWC) in the summer of 2013.

In doing so, the Spartans will leave behind their former league, the rapidly disintegrating Western Athletic Conference (WAC).

And all this excitement led university president Mohammad Qayoumi to proclaim an Affirmation Of Possibilities (AOP).

“I’m glad these schools and teams in the Mountain West are seeing the potential for what San Jose State can bring to the conference,” Qayoumi said.

And it was especially sweet because many of those very same schools were the ones who totally dumped on and deserted the Spartans 14 years ago when the Mountain West was originally founded. Qayoumi did not add that part. So I will.

Qayoumi does remember, though. In 1996, he was a San Jose State associate vice-president in charge of facilities when the school made its first attempt to move up significantly in the college sports world. With great fanfare, SJS left the very-small-time Big West Conference to join the then-more-prestigious WAC, which included higher-profile programs such as BYU, Air Force and Colorado State.

“I was working on the Spartan Stadium expansion,” Qayoumi recalled. “I went to all the games.”

In jumping to the WAC, San Jose State was joined by several other schools to create a 16-team league that was supposed to be a “superconference.”

It never worked out that way. In 1998, eight of the 16 WAC teams — including BYU, Air Force and Colorado State — decided they were far too superior to do business with plebeian SJSU and seven of the league’s other “new” members. So those eight allegedly superior schools broke away to form the Mountain West. This left SJSU and the other “new” WAC schools to scuffle along and try to survive.

Ah, but now the tables have turned. Over the last few years, college athletic conferences have been shaken and broken as schools have ditched one league to join another — often accompanied by bitterness and espionage and financial treachery. It’s been sort of like the Prussian War, only with network television contracts and water polo.

The Mountain West has been in the thick of the tumult. Over the past two years, the league has been abandoned by 1998 charter members Utah, BYU and San Diego State. This put the Mountain West in desperate need for new schools to step in and keep the conference viable.

Hello, Spartans.

How cool, eh? Four of those Mountain West schools that once ditched and ran away from San Jose State as if it had bad breath — Colorado State, Air Force, Wyoming and New Mexico — are now reaching out in need to the Spartans.

“This is just part of life,” Qayoumi said of the irony, denying any notion of reprisal.

Good strategy on his part. In truth, San Jose State athletics needs the Mountain West as much as the Mountain West needs SJSU. With the WAC falling apart on its own Prussian War front, the Spartans’ other options were not so terrific.

That’s why SJSU worked hard to gain the Mountain West invitation. Qayoumi says the idea was already on the radar when he was named president last year. Over the past several months, he’s spent one-on-one phone time lobbying the presidents of all the current Mountain West schools to gain their backing and convince them SJS is serious about upgrading facilities, fundraising and improving its basketball programs.

“We’ve got to deliver on the entire package,” Qayoumi said. “If any part of your body hurts, you’re sick.”

It surely helped, as Qayoumi lobbied the other Mountain West presidents, that he is a real college sports fan. Qayoumi played soccer as a kid in Afghanistan. And when he served as president of Cal State East Bay from 2006 to 2010, he often drove down from Hayward to attend San Jose State home football games. On a wall of the Simpkins Football Center where donors to the building’s 1994 construction are listed, Qayoumi’s name is on the plaque.

This enthusiasm for sports by a school president very much matters. It means that, as former athletic director Tom Bowen (now at Memphis after resigning last month) and interim athletic director Marie Tuite were trying to finalize the Mountain West deal, Qayoumi was along for the ride at every step.

“These last eight days have been intense,” said Tuite. “But the president has answered every email, returned every phone call, attended every meeting.” And now?

“This is just the beginning of the journey,” Qayoumi said.

Is it ever. We all know the story about San Jose State and its athletic struggles, particularly in football, the largest revenue driver. The university has so many assets — a large local alumni base, many successful graduates in Silicon Valley, a good tradition in many sports — but never has been able to translate those assets into consistent financial sustenance and home attendance.

To remain in the Mountain West, the school needs to upgrade facilities and yearly fundraising. Otherwise, it again could be left out of a party one day. Tuite was seizing the moment Friday, with so many excited alumni and fans gathered for the Mountain West announcement.

“If you’re not a donor, now is the time,” Tuite told them in a room adjoining Spartan Stadium. “And no donation is a small donation. We need all Spartans to step up and buy season tickets. Or if you already own them, you can buy more. And we just happen to have a table set up here where that can be done.”

She added pointedly: “There is no limit on how many season tickets you can purchase.”

SJ Mercury News: Qayoumi Views Mountain West Move as “Affirmation” of SJSU’s Potential

San Jose State’s Mountain West Conference dream now a reality

Published by the San Jose Mercury News May 4, 2012.

By Jon Wilner

San Jose State’s long, desperate climb into the Mountain West Conference became official Friday. The Spartans will move into their new, more luxurious home in the summer of 2013.

“Events like today are tremendously important markers of affirmation of the kind of potential San Jose State has,” university president Mohammad Qayoumi said. “There’s also a deeper sense of motivation.”

San Jose State will pay the Mountain West a $2 million entrance fee, according to sources. Such fees are standard for most conferences. No state money will be used; the amount can be paid over time and, if necessary, withheld from future revenue distributions by the league office.

The Mountain West will have 10 football-playing members in 2013: San Jose State, Utah State, Fresno State, Nevada, UNLV, Hawaii, Colorado State, Wyoming, Air Force and New Mexico.

There is no departure fee for leaving the Western Athletic Conference, which has been the Spartans’ home since 1996 but probably will cease to exist as a football league next year.

“We’re going to stop getting the question (from recruits) about what conference we’re going to be in,” SJSU coach Mike MacIntyre said. “This gives us stability.”

San Jose State’s location in the heavily populated Bay Area made it an attractive addition to the Mountain West, as did the Spartans’ rivalries with conference members Fresno State, Nevada and Hawaii.

Mountain West commissioner Craig Thompson also cited SJSU’s increased commitment to academic support for student-athletes.”It’s a growing, dynamic university,” he said.

But the Mountain West has higher standards than the WAC. It expects the Spartans to upgrade their struggling men’s basketball program and improve facilities.

SJSU is in the early stages of building a massive football operations center that will feature the Dick Vermeil Spartan Football Complex and the Bill Walsh Legacy Center.

The project is expected to cost at least $15 million and will be funded with private donations. Qayoumi declined to provide a start date for construction.

Asked about the men’s basketball program, which was 9-22 last season, Qayoumi said: “We are looking at what aspects are systemic and what are quick fixes.”

The move to the Mountain West was months in the making and was led by departing athletic director Tom Bowen, who accepted a similar position at Memphis last month. His deputies, Marie Tuite and John Poch, handled most of the Mountain West-related legwork during the tense final stage.

Tuite, who is serving as the interim athletic director, said she barely slept and lost seven pounds while scrambling to extricate the Spartans from the collapsing WAC.

“It’s such a huge deal for San Jose State,” Tuite said.

In a twist, the competitiveness of SJSU’s football program was not a major impediment to joining the Mountain West: Last season, the ascendant Spartans beat three teams — Colorado State, Hawaii and Fresno State — that will be in the league in 2013.

“We feel like we can play with any team in the Mountain West,” said receiver Jabari Carr, who attended Oak Grove High. “This is huge for the football program, not just (the players) but the community as a whole. We’re changing things, and that will change the way the city looks at San Jose State.”

The Mountain West does not sponsor women’s gymnastics, men’s soccer or women’s water polo. SJSU’s soccer and water polo teams will continue to participate in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation. SJSU must find a new home for gymnastics.

Also on Friday, Louisiana Tech and Texas-San Antonio announced they will leave the WAC and join Conference USA in 2013.

SJSU Accepts Mountain West Membership Offer

 

SJSU Accepts Mountain West Membership Offer

Media contacts:
Pat Lopes Harris, University Media Relations Director, (408) 924-1748 (office), (408) 656-6999 (cell)

Lawrence Fan, Athletics Media Relations Director, (408) 924-1217 (office), (408) 768-3424 (cell)

SAN JOSE, CA – Continuing its long-standing participation in NCAA Division I-A intercollegiate athletics, San José State University has accepted an offer to change its conference affiliation by joining the Mountain West on July 1, 2013.

“Joining the Mountain West in 2013 is an exciting opportunity for San José State University’s student-athletes, coaches and our many supporters,” President Mohammad Qayoumi said. “I want to thank everyone who worked hard to make this happen. The Mountain West and San José State are a great match.

“We are not joining this conference simply to compete. We are joining to win, and to build upon our current record of success reflecting San José State’s role as a leader in the classroom, in research and in athletics.”

Beginning in 2013-14, San José State will share Mountain West membership with the Air Force Academy (Colorado Springs, Colo.), Colorado State (Fort Collins, Colo.), Fresno State (Fresno, Calif.), Nevada (Reno, Nev.), UNLV (Las Vegas, Nev.), New Mexico (Albuquerque, N.M.), Utah State (Logan, Utah), Wyoming (Laramie, Wyo.) in many of its sports and Hawaii (Honolulu, Hawaii) in football only.

“Today is a historic day for San José State University athletics. We are proud to join the Mountain West in 2013 and continue our long and rich history of offering our student-athletes and coaches the opportunity to compete at the Division I-A level. In addition, our fans and alumni will continue enjoying the best in major college athletics,” said San José State University Interim Athletics Director Marie Tuite.

“We will join familiar opponents in competition, gain a better geographic fit when we travel to away games and provide a level of stability, particularly for our improving football program led by Coach Mike MacIntyre, with additional opportunities to grow all of our sports programs.”

With the recent addition of women’s outdoor track, 14 of San José State’s 17 NCAA Division I programs will compete for Mountain West championships. Presently, the Mountain West does not sponsor conference championships in men’s soccer, women’s gymnastics and women’s water polo. SJSU has a total of 450 student-athletes.

The Spartans will be exiting the Western Athletic Conference after securing membership in July 1996.

“As we look forward to becoming a Mountain West member, we want to thank the WAC for its support of San José State University athletics and providing our student-athletes a positive Division I athletics environment,” Tuite said. “On behalf of everyone affiliated with San José State athletics, we look forward to the challenges ahead, and embrace them willingly, as we enter the Mountain West.”

***

San José State University’s Intercollegiate Athletics Conference Affiliations

  • 1890 – San José State plays its first intercollegiate athletics contest in baseball.
  • 1950 – San José State philosophically commits to competing in major college athletics. The football team competes as an independent. Baseball and men’s basketball later join the West Coast Athletic Conference (WCAC).
  • 1969 – San José State is a founding member of the Pacific Coast Athletic Association (PCAA).
  • 1982 – San José State’s women’s athletics teams relinquish AIWA membership to compete as NCAA programs with conference affiliation in the NorPac Conference.
  • 1986 – San José State women’s athletics teams join the PCAA.
  • 1988 – The PCAA changes its name to the Big West Conference.
  • July 1, 1996 – San José State is one of six schools joining the Western Athletic Conference.
  • July 1, 2013 – San José State is one of two universities joining the Mountain West.

San José State — Silicon Valley’s largest institution of higher learning with 30,000 students and 3,850 employees — is part of the California State University system. SJSU’s 154-acre downtown campus anchors the nation’s 10th largest city.