USU president defends actions as criticism mounts
Stan Albrecht has heard the whispers and absorbed the criticism.
As Utah State's president, he's listened to complaints that somehow he didn't make USU his top priority when Brigham Young struck a deal with the Western Athletic Conference to place its men's basketball and nonrevenue athletic programs in the WAC while pursuing football independence. That, in declining an invitation from the Mountain West last week, he may have consigned Aggies athletics to future irrelevance.
Albrecht was one of the key figures in negotiating an Aug. 13 agreement that bound BYU and six other WAC members to a $5 million buyout penalty if they were to leave the league only to see Nevada and Fresno State do just that in departing for the Mountain West and putting the WAC in peril.
Albrecht has experienced a gauntlet of emotions in the wake of those events. Hurt, disappointment, concern for the future. You name it.
But he says he wants USU students, faculty and fans to know one thing: the university always will come first.
"I've received a lot of criticism on this issue," Albrecht told The Salt Lake Tribune on Thursday morning. "But if we make this happen, we've secured a very good place for Utah State, and we believe that expansion would have followed. We knew the risks, but we thought we had to go forward and take those risks. Before last week, I thought I knew what a binding agreement meant. Now I don't know what it means anymore."
In other words, Albrecht thought the WAC had a virtually iron-clad deal to put BYU together with Fresno, Nevada, Idaho, San Jose State, Utah State and New Mexico State in a re-jiggered league.
WAC commissioner Karl Benson called Fresno State and Nevada's actions "selfish" and vowed the conference would collect the $5 million apiece from the vagabonds in court, if necessary.
But the damage has been done. The WAC is now down to just six members, and BYU reportedly may now shelve football independence and stay in the Mountain West.
Albrecht was in the middle of all this. When he learned of Fresno State's defection, he immediately jumped on the phone and called President John Welty; not out of anger, but to ask what was going on and why.
"He told me that he was doing what he felt was best for his school and its long-term future," Albrecht said. "He said that he had to do what was best for his institution."
Even with Fresno leaving, Albrecht still was confident that the original plan could be executed. Then he learned that Nevada intended to follow Fresno out of the league.
"That's when I knew the deal was collapsing," Albrecht said.
USU's athletic future may now depend heavily on BYU.
USU has had extensive discussions with the Mountain West since initially turning down the conference.
But knowledgeable sources say the Aggies' best chance to join the MWC may now hinge on BYU staying in what would be an 11-member Mountain West and recommitting to the conference. Such a move could create an opening for a 12th school so the league could create a football championship game.
Because Utah State would provide BYU with a travel partner and a natural rival now that Utah is leaving for the Pac-10, sources believe that the Aggies would become an attractive option.
Albrecht wouldn't comment on the issue directly. He did say that there is pressure to get the issue resolved because he didn't want it hanging over the head of the football team and other athletic programs throughout the upcoming season which for football starts next Saturday at Oklahoma.
"It would be good to get this done quickly," Albrecht said. "Can we? I'm not sure. We're working all angles. There are things we can and can't control. But once this gets settled then I'm sure everyone involved can breathe easy."
Aug. 13 • Utah State and most of the Western Athletic Conference agree to a $5 million buyout penalty for leaving the league in anticipation of BYU joining the conference in all nonfootball sports.
Aug. 17 • Utah State declines an inquiry of interest by the MWC.
Aug. 18 • The Tribune reports that BYU will seek football independence and put its remaining sports in the WAC
• Fresno State and Nevada decide to leave the WAC for the Mountain West.
Aug. 19 • WAC Commissioner Karl Benson holds a teleconference, calls Fresno and Nevada's actions "selfish."