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Coaches expound on WAC breakup

SHARE Coaches expound on WAC breakup

In the eyes of men's basketball coaches Riley Wallace of Hawaii and Jerry Tarkanian of Fresno State, the breakup of the 16-team Western Athletic Conference is a matter of attitude - and altitude.

"Happy days are here again," replied Wallace when asked about Hawaii remaining in a depleted WAC following the departure of the University of Utah, Brigham Young University and six other schools to a newly created, yet-to-be-named eight-member league.

"We don't have to go to BYU, we don't have to go to Utah, to Wyoming, to Air Force, to Wyoming, to New Mexico," continued Wallace, listing nearly all the WAC-defecting schools. "I'll miss Fred (coach Fred Trenkle) at San Diego State - that was a nice trip for us."

One can say that Wallace is a fair-weather friend when it comes to WAC competition. "You can have all that thin air and snow - I won't miss it," said Wallace, whose Rainbow Warriors remain in an eight-team WAC with the likes of Fresno State, San Jose State, Texas El Paso, Texas Christian, Southern Methodist and Tulsa.

Tarkanian agrees, saying high altitudes wreak havoc with his high-octane attack. "You can't play a pressure defense in the (high) altitude," Tark said. "You're a half-step to a step slower playing pressure defense in the high altitude."

Wallace said travel to the Rocky Mountains - especially when departing from the middle of the Pacific - is a full-step cost to his team. The Rainbow Warriors can fly from Honolulu to Dallas and be in their hotel beds much faster than they can fly from Honolulu to Denver and arrive by bus in Fort Collins or Laramie.

As a high-profile figure who reveled in Sin City spotlights when he coached at UNLV, Tarkanian finds another silver lining in not having to travel to the likes of the Laramie, Albuquerque, Fort Collins or Provo. "If you get beat in Dallas or Fort Worth, you're still in Dallas or Fort Worth and not stuck in some of those other places."

Wallace says the hurt felt by Hawaii over being left behind by a group of longtime WAC peers is slowly going away, although some of the fans' flaming frustrations over the breakup will likely be rekindled by the media once conference play begins in January. "As a coach, I'm not going to call for a pep rally to attack BYU - our fans do that already," Wallace said.

And the longtime 'Bows coach is ready to start new rivalries, particularly since University of Hawaii president Kenneth Mortimer adamantly opposes ever scheduling WAC-defecting schools again. "I can learn to hate (TCU coach) Billy Tubbs as much as I did BYU - and that won't take much."

Meanwhile, two of the biggest "the-WAC-is-too-big" critics - Utah's Rick Majerus and New Mexico's Dave Bliss - stood their ground later Wednesday. They remained critical of the mega-con-fer-ence and added criticism of the breakaway process.

"We made a mistake before, expanding to 16 teams," said Bliss, "and I'm not sure if we're not making a mistake now. A lot of the (WAC expansion) decisions were made for other sports . . . Outside of moving the conference tournament to Las Vegas, there wasn't a decision made in the best interest of basketball."

Bliss said the conference desperately needs a commission, a name, a presence and an image. "We need to get someone who has a feel for basketball and who can take us in a basketball direction."

Though labeling expansion to 16 teams "a mistake" by the WAC and the inclusion of former Southwest Conference members Rice, TCU and SMU as "another mistake," Majerus decries the absences of the likes of Hawaii, Fresno State and UTEP in the new WAC-flavored breakaway conference. "A league without (UTEP coach) Don Haskins is a league that suffers."

Majerus added that he expects the new league to soon add a ninth conference member, which would make for more manageable league schedules in football and be adaptable in basketball as well. The Ute coach foresees Fresno State as being the ninth school to be added to the new-league mix.

Added Bliss: "I'd like to go to nine and steal the WAC name back."