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Aggie athletes worry as WAC wobbles

September 27th, 2010 Posted in Sports

By Jakob Asplund

LOGAN—New student-athletes at Utah State are feeling confused about their future because of uncertainties about USU athletic conference alignment that clouds their future and that of Aggie sports.

When USU President Stan Albrecht acted as one of the key figures in negotiating an agreement that would bind Brigham Young University and other members of the Western Athlete Conference, many fans and athletes thought the WAC would be a strong league. The planned WAC would consist of Fresno State University, Nevada-Reno, Idaho, San Jose State, Utah State, Hawaii, Louisiana Tech, New Mexico State and BYU. Instead the deal collapsed as Fresno State and Nevada abandoned the WAC for the Mountain West Conference, and BYU announced it was going independent.

USU Athletic Director Scott Barnes said it is a configuration that changes almost daily. Details discussed earlier this semester might not be accurate anymore.

“I believe it is in our best interest to look at bringing on some new members sooner rather than later to stabilize and protect our current members,” Barnes said. “Conference alignment is about enhancing and/or protecting your position.”

The situation has been discussed widely, both in the news media and in discussions among students and coaches, as the WAC’s future and USU’s place in it have gone from almost set in stone to far from certain.

From a strong conference of Western universities negotiated over the summer, announcements by Fresno State and Nevada-Reno in August that they would jump to the Mountain West Conference in the next two years—despite a $5 million price tag for each school to break their agreements with the WAC—along with BYU’s decision to go independent, threw the conference into question.

For Aggie athletes, uncertainty about the future of their athletic college careers affects their motivation to work through their season.

This is particularly a problem for new USU athletes—freshmen, sophomores and transfer students. Many student-athletes asked about the situation knew surprisingly little, and some who knew about it either thought it an awkward subject to talk about or did not want to say anything that was not accurate.

Kendra Pemberton, a freshman on the USU soccer team, said it was good that Albrecht was honest and honored USU’s agreement to remain in the WAC, but said she didn’t know much more.

“I don´t know enough about it to have an opinion,” she said.

Pane Brockeith, a junior basketball player, said, “Word on the street is that some teams are leaving the WAC.”

Some students have read about the issue in the press, and did have broader opinions. Tennis player Sven Poslusny said he had read articles online about Boise State University leaving next year, followed by Fresno State and Nevada in two years. He said Barnes came to talk to the tennis team at its first team meeting.

“He told us not to worry about it, that we should do our best in classes and on court,” Poslusny said. “He said we are in good hands and our coaches will do a great job, working with us.”

Poslusny said he doesn’t think the WAC issue would be the end of USU athletics, but thinks it is sad that three great teams were leaving the conference.

“Barnes said don´t worry but I think there is a risk of the WAC getting weaker now,” he said. “I think it looks like USU did the right thing through Albrecht´s decision, but I don´t know if the right thing matters if everyone leaves.”

Albrecht, who holds a leadership position in the NCAA, has said USU would stand by its agreement with the WAC.

Barnes, USU’s athletic director, has said, “It is important that we leave room to take advantage of potential movement that may occur across the national landscape in the near future.”

In an “open letter” to the Cache Valley Daily last month, Barnes said he did not take lightly the negative effects that changes in the WAC’s composition will have on USU. But he said he was confident in the future of USU athletics.

“We have persevered through many changes in the athletic landscape and are prepared and better equipped to do so again,” Barnes said. “We will continue to focus on building programs that win championships, graduate talented student athletes, as well as excite and unify Aggies everywhere.”

In the locker room, however, Aggie athletes aren’t so sure.

Jakob Asplund is a senior on the USU men’s tennis team.

TP

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