This week could have, should have settled the question of where Utah Valley and the Western Athletic Conference are headed.
After the WAC left UVU out in favor of Seattle University, the answer for both parties seems to be this: not a clue.
For the Wolverines, it’s a blow that leaves them reeling in the not-so-Great West Conference, which will look more like the Great West Division after North Dakota and South Dakota take off next summer and leave five schools to keep it afloat.
As for the WAC, they curiously decided to make Seattle the second non-football school invited over the past eight months (University of Denver was the other).
Questions abound. Here are a few:
Why Seattle over UVU?
Depends on who you talk to. Salt Lake Tribune reporter Tony Jones quotes WAC commissioner Karl Benson saying, “Seattle had more of the characteristics that we were looking for.”
Jones alludes to Seattle’s media market, which is admittedly larger than Orem, UT.
Neil Warner of the Daily Herald pegged inter-college alliances after UVU Director of Athletics Michael Jacobsen admitted “Idaho wanted them in. They felt like they would be a good travel partner, they have 100 years of academic excellence… In the end, I think the support that Idaho gave Seattle was big.”
If that isn’t bad enough, speculation ran rampant leading up to this week’s decision that Utah State wasn’t exactly willing to welcome UVU with open arms. Don’t forget, Utah State president Dr. Stan Albrecht is the WAC’s chair of the Board of the Directors.
When I spoke to Jacobsen two weeks before the announcement, he admitted, “The thing I do know for sure is if Utah State would support us in getting into the WAC, we would get in.”
How comforting that popularity and social issues are crippling in every aspect of schools and universities.
What does UVU have to offer?
When I spoke to Jacobsen, he was adamant the Wolverines “would have been an asset” to the WAC. Some factoids to support this:
- UVU boasted two All-Americans for the 2010-11 season (Isiah Williams in basketball, Ben Kjar in wrestling). Seattle didn’t have any.
- Wolverines baseball (76 wins in two years), basketball (19-11 overall), and wrestling (three national qualifiers, Kjar 4th in nation) are legit programs.
- Location-wise, it’s hard to beat UVU’s I-15 spotlight seat.
- A booming student body north of 30,000.
Benson, however, was more aware of what UVU lacks. Namely:
- Not just football, but potential for football. After 27 years of trying, Jacobsen still hasn’t managed to convince the university to fund a gridiron program (there’s no room in UVU’s jam-packed campus for a field and seats anyway).
- Tradition is huge for college athletics. UVU has a ton on the community college level, but has been a full NCAA school for just two years. Seattle? A Final Four appearance in the 1950s (with NBA legend Elgin Baylor as their star) and roughly 40 years of NCAA history under its belt.
- Market value. Utah Valley is just down the street from BYU, 40 minutes away from University of Utah, and a couple hours from Utah State. University of Washington is Seattle’s only immediate competition, giving them a potentially larger following in an already bigger market.
What did the WAC overlook?
Potential, potential, potential. Even with other universities surrounding UVU, there would have been a huge market for another NCAA program, especially in pro-sports starved Utah.
Benson probably isn’t aware of UVU’s unofficial status as BYURU (Brigham Young University Rejectees University). As SpenceT25 said on Twitter, “The WAC obviously doesn’t understand how much ppl who’ve been denied admission 2 BYU will watch UVU sports.”
As for Seattle, their NCAA history also makes them a known quantity. Their potential has been realized, while Utah Valley’s remains untapped.
Why is the WAC suddenly so non-football friendly?
You got me. Even after extending Seattle the formal invite, WAC commissioner Karl Benson admitted to ESPN that having only seven football schools was “workable, but not ideal.”
So why jump the gun and add another pigskin-less university at all? Benson followed his previous comment by saying the WAC’s “No. 1 priority will be to get to eight or nine or more football-playing schools.”
I’m glad I’m not the only one who puts off No. 1 priorities until the last minute.