bleedCrimson.net Interview With WAC Commissioner Karl Benson

bleedCrimson.net: What are you, the University Presidents and ADs looking for in a university when looking at expansion, what are the core criteria, for example enrollment size, public or private institution, academic status (as we've seen with the Pac 10 and Big 10), and athletically are there certain sports do they need to field beyond the minimum requirement for Division I status?
Karl Benson: Conference affiliation is always going to be based on a combination of academic and athletic fit and I don't know if you can put more priority on one over the other. I think you also have to factor in geography and as we go through this next phase of identifying potential members of the WAC, we'll take into consideration all of those, the academics, the athletics, the geography, the demographics, the media value. All of those will be factored in.

bc.net: Are there any minimum requirements in any or all of those areas?
KB: The only current sports sponsorship requirements are men's and women's basketball, football and women's volleyball.

bc.net: What is the process once you've identified universities that fit that criteria and how long or short can that process take?
KB: The identification of schools is pretty much known. I think we know the schools that are within the WAC footprint that have either indicated an interest in the WAC or the WAC is interested in. The identification process is probably already done. The assessment and the evaluation period is what we're going to go into as the next phase.

bc.net: Are you able to identify publicly those schools?
KB: No.

bc.net: Hypothetically, let's say you've identified a school and their football program plays at the FCS level, the WAC has had success making football programs better after they've gone from FCS to FBS (BSU obviously big success, Idaho not as much success up until last season's bowl victory, Nevada, moderate success) but you've never had a situation, at least while you've been the conference's commissioner, where you're taking a school straight from FCS to FBS.  What assistance, financial or otherwise, can the WAC offer to a school where they aren't seven even 10 years down the road saying "You know what, we can't financially sustain the resources it takes to be an FBS level football program and we need to move back down to the FCS level?"
KB: It's the institution's financial responsibility to provide an institutional funding base that allows them to compete. That will be one of the factors in our evaluation, what is the institution's commitment to playing at the FBS level and do they have funding model in place to sustain it. The WAC provides some revenue but it's a very small part of what an institution's overall yearly budget might be.

bc.net: There have been a couple of difference FCS schools who have gone to the FBS level in the past five to seven years or so. From a budget standpoint are there any baselines that you, as a commissioner when you're talking to a prospective school that you tell them, "You need to meet at least this level."
KB: No.

bc.net: What effect does the NCAA's 4-year moratorium for schools transitioning from one division level to another have on process?
KB: The moratorium has been in place, it expires next summer and any FCS school moving to FBS, it is a three year process that would begin at the earliest in June of 2011. That's per NCAA rules and there's not much that the WAC can do to alter that.

bc.net: As part of that three year process, is it correct that there is a two year transition period where they can't be associated with a conference?
KB: No.

bc.net: What's the process for an FCS team to go from the FCS level to the FBS level?
KB: The first year that they declare their intentions to go from FCS to FBS they disqualify themselves from FCS competition and the games that they play against FCS opponents are not counted toward bowl eligibility except the rule that a team can use one FCS win for bowl eligibility.

For example, and in this case the earliest we would be looking at any FCS school is 2012. You said this was hypothetical, if they declare their intentions, or let's put it this way, if the WAC extends an invitation to an FCS school next spring, it would be effective for the 2012 season. In 2011 they would begin the transition process and their games, they wouldn't be participating in the WAC obviously, I don't know what the status would be of their existing conference but in the second year, assuming that they are now a member of the WAC, their games in year two of the transition would count toward bowl eligibility, they would not be eligible for bowl postseason until their third year.

bc.net: You talked about geography playing a role in the selection process, how much weight does Louisiana Tech's membership in the WAC have on the schools currently under consideration? Do you try to add teams east of New Mexico State in an effort to bridge the geographic gap in the WAC footprint?
KB: I'm sure that that will be a consideration.

bc.net: You said in your press release that you're considering all options from an 8 team league to a 12 team league.  You've also said before that nine teams are ideal for football and 10 are ideal for basketball. Are there scenarios where you would consider adding a football school AND a non-football school so that you have the 9 team football league and the 10-team basketball schedules?
KB: I'm sure that model will be a consideration.

bc.net: What kind of impact do you see the WAC expansion having on the non-revenue/Olympic sports?
KB: We'd hope that it's positive and that this isn't just a football decision and that we take into consideration the other sports.

bc.net: BCS payouts for the non-BCS conferences are determined by a performance metric/formula which was agreed upon by the five non-BCS conference.  Will that formula change and when is it eligible for change?
KB: It is subject to change for this upcoming season. It has not been confirmed for the next four year cycle which begins with 2010. Those discussions with the five conference commissioners will take place later this summer I'm sure.

bc.net: How have the WAC's neutral site tournaments been received from a coach, player, fan perpective?
KB: From a coach standpoint, all of our neutral site championships have been received very positively. Volleyball in Las Vegas, baseball in Phoenix, golf in Las Vegas and Phoenix area. I think that the initial reaction has been very positive.

bc.net: Do you anticipate that the WAC postseason championships like volleyball, softball and baseball to return to a full field where all the teams are participating when the expansion happens?
KB: It's too soon to tell.

bc.net: What is the status of the proposed format changes for the men's and women's basketball conference tournament?
KB: I think that we're expecting that the current format will continue for the 2011 and 2012 tournaments.