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Randy Hollis: USU needs life preserver before WAC sinks

SHARE Randy Hollis: USU needs life preserver before WAC sinks

Forgive Utah State University's athletic department if it's beginning to feel like the proverbial red-headed stepchild that nobody loves — or wants.

After all, with each passing month, it seems the Mountain West Conference extends an invitation to another Western Athletic Conference school to jump ship and join the MWC.

And with each school's departure, the WAC is dealt another devastating blow to its increasingly dark-and-cloudy future. Indeed, if the WAC isn't already down for the count, it's wobbling badly and, at best, hanging onto the ropes trying to avoid a final, fatal knockout punch.

First, it was Boise State, the WAC's flagship football school and perennial BCS-busting big shot.

Then, when BYU was on the verge of joining the WAC in all sports but football, the Mountain West shrewdly spoiled BYU's plans by inviting Nevada and Fresno State to join the MWC, too.

Utah State had received a similar invitation to leave the WAC in favor of the Mountain West, but the Aggies stayed loyal to the promise they'd made to the WAC — and now that loyalty, though extremely admirable, appears to be repeatedly biting them squarely on the backside.

And you couldn't blame the Aggies for being more than a little bit bitter as they sadly go down with the WAC's sinking ship.

This past week, the University of Hawaii — which, at 32 years, had been the WAC's longest-tenured member — became the latest in a lengthening list of WAC schools which have announced they're leaving for the greener pastures of the Mountain West. The Warriors will join the MWC in 2012.

And each time, the WAC's loss is definitely the MWC's gain, to the point where the WAC, as Howard Cosell once said famously to Muhammad Ali, is now just a shadow of its former self.

The WAC, which served BYU and Utah's programs so well for nearly three decades, has been left scrambling to find suitable replacement schools. To that end, the WAC wound up with nice but unheralded, no-name folks like Texas-San Antonio, Texas State and Denver University, which doesn't have a football program, hopelessly trying to take the place of WAC defectors Boise State, Nevada, Fresno State and Hawaii.

It's a desperate, losing battle the WAC can't win.

Utah State, which for years yearned to join the WAC and compete in the same conference with its in-state big brothers Utah and BYU, finally got its shot at WAC membership a few years ago — but only after BYU and Utah had bolted to help form the Mountain West Conference.

Now, at least behind closed doors, Utah State would likely love to join the Mountain West, even though Utah and BYU are again on their way out the door following the current school year. The Utes, of course, are leaving for the expanded Pac-12. BYU, meanwhile, is headed for football independence and, due to a badly weakened WAC, backed away and instead went to the West Coast Conference for the Cougars' other sports.

With TCU on its way to the Big East Conference, the Mountain West — unlike the WAC — was able to find some solid (albeit not hardly equal) replacements by landing Nevada, Fresno State and now Hawaii, and at the same time decimating what was once the WAC.

Alas, now it seems nobody wants to invite Utah State to the MWC party. The Aggies received their invitation once before, valiantly turned it down, and now the Mountain West has apparently decided to scratch USU off the potential MWC party-goers list.

It's really too bad, because the WAC is dying a painful, agonizing death.

And I feel badly for the Aggies, too, because they would fit in well with so many of those Mountain West schools who were formerly USU's rivals in the WAC and Big West conferences.

But it remains to be seen whether Utah State ever gets that chance, or winds up as the odd man out, on the outside looking in once again — just as it has so many times in the past.

In the meantime, maybe somebody could throw the Aggies a life preserver, because they seem destined to go down with the WAC's leaky ship as it sails into some rough, uncharted waters.

e-mail: rhollis@desnews.com