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For WAC, USU, patience is key

Published September 1, 2010 6:13 pm

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2010, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

As a college basketball star at Fresno State, Scott Barnes made his reputation as a hungry rebounder.

Now, as Utah State's Athletic Director, Barnes faces arguably the biggest rebounding project of his career.

Barnes said Wednesday he was "disappointed" that Brigham Young didn't make the Western Athletic Conference its home for non-revenue sports, saying he believed the WAC is still a "viable" conference.

He added it was now time for the Aggies to begin exploring their options as they ponder the WAC's loss of Boise State, Fresno State and Nevada to the Mountain West. USU will be working in the WAC to find two new members to replace the Bulldogs and Wolfpack — bringing the conference back up to eight schools. Barnes added the possibility of joining the Mountain West — the Aggies turned down an MWC invitation Aug. 18 — is still alive.

"We haven't had any live dialogue with the Mountain West," Barnes said. "Those things happen over time. But it certainly isn't a dead issue."

On one hand, Barnes preached patience. USU doesn't need to decide about anything until at least next summer, and given how the ground is shifting, things may look quite differently in 2011.

"We believe that what happened this summer is the tip of the iceberg," Barnes said.

At the same time, Barnes acknowledged waiting too long to find his school a secure future could have an adverse impact in a number of areas, particularly in football and basketball recruiting. Utah State's basketball program, for instance, appears on track for an impressive 2012 recruiting class.

"If this were to play out for any length of time, recruiting certainly could become an issue," Barnes said. What's clear is that no major changes appear imminent . It's also clear that the football team, which plays Saturday at Oklahoma, is beginning what just might be one of the most important seasons in school history. In what amounts to an audition of sorts, the Aggie football team must win games in order to show it is becoming competitive as a program. That could lead to increased attendance at Romney Stadium which would make Utah State a more valuable commodity as it searches for a home.

"From that standpoint, Gary [USU coach Gary Andersen], has done a wonderful job of putting us in position to knock the door down," Barnes said. "It's important that we prove that we're a viable [Football Bowl Subdivision] program. We've made strides, but the next step is to see that in the win column."

Meanwhile the WAC has entered into an agreement with BYU that will provide the Cougars with four to six conference opponents annually during the 2011-12 seasons.

WAC commissioner Karl Benson has also announced the formation of a membership committee that will begin evaluating and processing possible new members. Benson said he expects the conference to expand, but didn't expect it to occur swiftly. Cal Poly, Texas-San Antonio and Montana have all been mentioned as possible targets.

"We want to create a landscape that will accommodate our six remaining members for the future," Benson said. "There are teams out there that will bring value to the WAC. I'm confident that the remaining six schools will continue to get better under the WAC umbrella."

tjones@sltrib.com

on Twitter: @tonyaggieville