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A Big West without football?

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Today's edition of The Sporting Muse, devoted to the notion of a Big West without football:

That sound you hear is the air leaking out of the Big West football, and it's a pleasant sound to the Californians in the conference.The Western Athletic Conference's (WAC) decision Monday to invite Boise State, effective in the 2001-02 season, and Louisiana Tech was a serious blow to the remaining football players in the Big West. Boise State is host of the Humanitarian Bowl, and it will take the bowl game with it when it joins the WAC.

Boise State's departure, on the heels of Nevada leaving in 2000-01, will leave only four schools playing football in the league (Idaho, Utah State, New Mexico State and North Texas) and without an automatic bowl bid for any kind of league champ.

That's a pretty big piece of football inventory to lose. The number of bowls may continue to increase, but the opportunities are all going to bigger and better football conferences. Plus, the NCAA also requires a minimum of six schools for recognition as a Division I-A conference.

This keeps the momentum moving for the six California-based Big West schools who want to turn the conference into an all-California league sans football. So far, they haven't had do anything more strenuous than stay focused and wave goodbye.

"The train remains on the track," said Long Beach State Athletic Director Bill Shumard. "We need to keep applying subtle pressure for what we want." . . .

New Mexico State and North Texas could be the next two Big West schools to leave. They applied for WAC membership, but the WAC, which saw TCU defect to Conference USA last week, decided to limit its expansion for now to 10 schools.

They have also have expressed interest in joining the Sun Belt Conference, which has an improving profile as a basketball conference and is considering expanding into football.

The Sun Belt currently includes Arkansas-Little Rock, Arkansas State, Florida International, Louisiana-Lafayette, Louisiana Tech, New Orleans, South Alabama and Western Kentucky, though Tech, currently a Division I-A football independent, is headed for the WAC.

Of those schools, only three play football. Arkansas St. is an associate football member of the Big West, Lafayette is a Division I-A independent, and Western Kentucky plays in the I-AA Ohio Valley Conference. Several other Division I-A schools -- Central Florida, Middle Tennessee State, Louisiana-Monroe -- would like to join the Sun Belt, or at least work with it in arranging a football league.

Idaho and Utah State are the odd men out in all of the scenarios, neither big enough or close enough to warrant a look from the WAC or any Sun Belt aggregation.

At one time, Big West officials talked about an arrangement that could have served everyone. It would have separated the conference into California and mountain divisions and limited their competition to championship play.

"It was a less-than-perfect solution," said Shumard. "If Boise State had remained, there might have been sentiment to try it for a couple of years. But it doesn't make any sense now.' . . .

Both Riverside and Northridge have expressed major interest in joining an all-California Big West, but Sacramento State hasn't come to a conclusion yet. The existing members are content with the prospects of an eight-team league featuring Long Beach, Fullerton, Irvine, UCSB, San Luis Obispo, Pacific, Riverside and Northridge.

California schools have also finished studies on the potential savings and concluded that an all-state league would save $100,000-plus a season in travel costs.

At schools like Long Beach, that money would be reinvested in boosting the strength of non-conference schedules for all of the key sports -- men's and women's basketball and volleyball and baseball.

Shumard said both volleyball programs would like to add more national rivals to their non-conference or tournament slates. Dave Snow's baseball program already plays powers like Wichita State and Miami, and would also like bring powers like Texas, Florida State and LSU to Blair Field.

The talk of an all-state league has already presented the Big West an intriguing opportunity. Officials at the Anaheim Convention Center, which seats about 7,500 for basketball, have contacted the league office about hosting basketball and volleyball tournament and championship events.

The new WAC apparently is determined to make the same mistakes which led to the breakup of the old WAC.

When the WAC expanded to 16 schools, it created an unwieldy league with contrasting goals and geographic chaos. It extended from Hawaii to Tulsa and included a handful of Texans that had little in common with the BYUs and other mountain schools. Eight of those schools (Air Force, BYU, Colorado State, New Mexico, San Diego State, UNLV, Utah and Wyoming) subsequently broke away and created the Mountain West Conference.

Based on the latest deletions and additions, a 10-team WAC will eventually include Hawaii, Boise State, Nevada, Fresno State, San Jose State (west) and UTEP, SMU, Rice, Louisiana Tech and Tulsa (south).

If the WAC wants to be this disparate, it might as well take in all of the Big West football teams and a few other stragglers and build back up to 16 teams.

The west would include Hawaii, Idaho, Boise State, Nevada, Fresno State, San Jose State, New Mexico State and Utah State. The south would feature Arkansas State, UTEP, SMU, Rice, North Texas, Louisiana-Lafayette, Louisiana Tech and Tulsa.

Of course, it's congregations like these which make the all-California idea seem so logical.