Money, yes. But in the world of collegiate athletics, it almost always comes down to travel. Here’s a great retrospective on the rise and fall of the WAC’s 16-team format — a conference spread across four time zones.
When it happened, Karl Benson was laying on a couch in a dark room recovering from emergency eye surgery.
That seemed like an absolutely fitting end to the largest Division I major-college conference ever. The vision for the 16-team Western Athletic Conference was blurred from the beginning.
Twenty years ago Saturday, the big, bloated, bad-ass WAC split up — 16 teams extending four time zones from Honolulu to Houston. The league basically collapsed on itself because of travel, logistics, infighting and money. Isn’t it always about money?
The league expanded in 1996 basically without athletic director input. Caught up in Southeastern Conference expansion, the Southwest Conference’s demise and the formation of the Big 12, WAC presidents saw an opportunity to become college sports’ Next Big Conference.It quickly became The Biggest Conference, adding six schools in 1996 to a nice-tidy 10-team league that had existed competently and mostly west of the Rockies since 1962.…Benson recalled an epic line from Ferd Lewis, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser‘s veteran columnist: “The University of Hawaii can travel to Tokyo and eat rice in less time than it takes to go to Houston to play Rice.”