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Pac-12 Confidential

Bud Withers offers an inside look at the Pac-12 Conference and the national college scene.

May 2, 2012 at 12:54 PM

The WAC mess; Seattle U and Idaho; Zags land a big man; Pac-12 draft thoughts

Go away for a few days (New Orleans Jazzfest/Springsteen/sensational) and all hell breaks loose. And so, it looks like, does the Western Athletic Conference.

Item: Seattle U. says it’s still looking forward to joining the WAC July 1.

Comment: The question is, will there be anybody else still in the league by then?

It was less than a year ago — mid-June — that the WAC formally extended the invitation to Seattle U., giving way to much celebration. Today, I’ve got to believe that there’s a lot less confetti on the SU campus than hand-wringing and consternation.

Athletic director Bill Hogan told the Times’ Bob Condotta that the school remains “really enthused about joining the WAC . . . and being eligible for conference championships and NCAA-tournament bids.”

Except for this: Right now, the WAC looks like a burning building.

The league is being plundered of schools that joined and will never play a game in the WAC. It appears that Texas-San Antonio is departing for Conference USA (along with Louisiana Tech, a longtime — well, sort of — WAC member).

Two who are apparently getting rerouted from the WAC to the Sun Belt are Texas State and Texas-Arlington. And, worse for Seattle U., San Jose State and Utah State look bound for the Mountain West.


Just five schools would thus be left in the league for basketball, and you need seven for an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament. The survivors are Seattle U., Denver, New Mexico State, Idaho and Boise State. But there’s instability there as well because Idaho is a football-playing school currently checking its hole card and Boise State is no doubt having some second thoughts about checking its non-football sports into the WAC as it prepares for the Big East in football.
The West Coast Conference, where Seattle U.. used to live, has to be the most preferable option for the Redhawks. But that league just added Pacific to expand to 10, and without a logical partner to pair with SU and make it a 12-team league, there’s no incentive to add Seattle U. (The league did study Denver in its expansion exploration, so perhaps a Seattle-Denver addition makes sense sometime down the road — but only if the Redhawks can present a more convincing case to the WCC.)
Some possibilities for the battered WAC to expand: Independent Cal State-Bakersfield, plus two now in the non-AQ Great West Conference — Utah Valley and Texas-Pan American. Those programs get you excited?
Problem is, this is about more than just being in a league that gets an automatic bid to the NCAA basketball tournament. It’s about league membership, being part of a solid alliance and all that goes with it — travel considerations, rivalries and drawing power in a cosmopolitan city that often has a lot better things to do than go to KeyArena to see the Redhawks take on Texas-Pan American.
While Seattle U. deals with all this, there’s Idaho, which has to contemplate whether to get out of the Football Bowl Subdivision (Division 1-A) business entirely and go back to the FCS Big Sky. I would surmise that Idaho administrators are going to have to take the temperature of the fan base and judge what the wishes are.
One option is becoming a temporary independent in football and having its other sports compete in the WAC, hoping in the long term for a safer spot in a convoluted landscape.
Hogan points out that it’s a changing landscape “and in two or three years, who knows what it will look like?”
Problem is, for the WAC, the terrain just keeps looking progressively worse.
Item: Gonzaga gets a commitment from 7-1, 280-pound Polish center Przemek Karnowski. He is a lefty, and considered fairly skilled down low. He averaged 10.1 points in Poland’s top pro league last season.
Comment: It looks like a big-time get for the Zags, if for no other reason than the recruiting competition: Duke, Kansas, Marquette and California. He came down to Cal and Gonzaga.
It eases the sting of forward Ryan Spangler’s transfer back to Oklahoma, and gives more credence to the notion that Gonzaga will be a pretty significant player nationally next year. It gives the Zags a four-man rotation of big men — Elias Harris, Sam Dower, Kelly Olynyk (coming off a redshirt year) and Karnowski.
Word is, Gonzaga coach Mark Few was initially skeptical of Karnowski’s footwork, but after a trip to Europe, came away impressed. The kid needs more strength, but like a lot of Euros, can step away from the basket and hit a perimeter shot, something Few prizes. All four of those bigs can do that.
Item: The NFL draft tells us some weird things about the Pac-12, among them: There wasn’t a place for Chris Polk, Darron Thomas or Vontaze Burfict.
Comment: The league spends a lot more money than I make assessing the worth of college talent, but I can’t recall a draft of such sobering results for key Pac-12 players.
And think about this: UCLA, whom you would have assumed to stockpile some talent in Rick Neuheisel’s four seasons there, got exactly nobody drafted. In other words, recruiting in Los Angeles, it matched what Washington State got, recruiting to Pullman.
Then there’s Oregon. The Ducks had four players drafted, but only LaMichael James (second round) was an early pick. That means Oregon, in two seasons in which it went 24-3, had only two players taken in the first four rounds of the two drafts.
Double-edged sword, that. You can say the system and the coaching is squeezing every drop out of the talent, but, coaches being coaches, the Ducks might have to fight some negative recruiting on their abiity to get players to the next level.

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