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  Sports 11/03/03
Being in the WAC means more fame, fortune

By Earl Scott

Well, it has finally happened. Utah State has made it into the Western Athletic Conference.

It has been a long journey; occasionally we've been treated like a fly that keeps trying to land on your plate of food and gets swatted away. But USU is the fly that wouldn't go away; we were determined to get a piece of the food that was on most everyone's plate.

Now that we're on the plate what does it mean to the university, the athletic programs and Cache County?

Obviously it means more money for all the aforementioned institutions.

Logan is in the process of putting a full-service hotel downtown, and being in the WAC will help keep it filled up.

Once the hotel is built, the athletic teams that have been staying in Ogden will be staying in town. Most of the WAC teams travel well, so they'll bring their fans with them. Most fans stay at the same hotel or in the same town as the team, so those people, as well as the athletic teams, will be spending money here. In the long run it will put more money into the local businesses' pockets.

The university itself will receive more recognition because of the higher profile teams we will be playing. USU Athletic Director Rance Pugmire said part of the reason we play the Nebraskas and Arizona States is it gets the school's name out there with high-profile universities.

The WAC scores are given on ESPN and other major television networks and USU will be among them. Free publicity is good, and getting the news networks to mention your name is always helpful.

I know the next question from the cynics will be: What happens if we lose a game by a large margin and they announce it on ESPN. That can't be good.

Well, I was a coach for 20 years and because of that I tend to look at things from an optimistic point of view. I honestly believe that the job Head Coach Mick Dennehy has done holding the football program together when his team had nothing to play for has been tremendous.

He was a winner at the University of Montana, and I feel now that he has something to work with he will build a winner here. Stew Morrill has already built a winning basketball team, and I believe he will keep it that way and this will give the new women's basketball team a jump-start.

The university athletic programs themselves are going to receive a boost in the arm by being in the WAC. The caliber of play is higher and the national attention is there.

Regional rivalries that have been lost, such as Boise State and Nevada, will be rekindled; high-profile teams such as Hawaii and Fresno State will be coming to town. Sure it will cost more to compete in the WAC, and facilities will have to be upgraded, but more money will also be coming into the coffers of the athletic department.

In all the excitement our short tenure in the Sun Belt Conference has become quite the topic of discussion. Some feel that being in the Sun Belt was beneath USU or it was a waste of time. I have been accused more than once of slanting what I write toward the positive side and it's true. I like to write that way, it's the way I am. If you feel writers need to write only negatively, then go to journalism school and ask the editor of this publication if you can write something negative. This is my column and I can write what I want to, and I think we owe the Sun Belt a big thank-you.

Dennehy summed it up best when he said, "I don't think we would have got the kids back if we hadn't got into the Sun Belt."

A few years back we treated the Sun Belt like they were the fly trying to land on our plate. Some former administrators felt the conference was beneath us and we would be better off without them. Well, how wrong they were; even a fine institution like USU needs conference affiliation.

Through the efforts of Rance Pugmire and USU President Kermit Hall we were able to get into the Sun Belt and have something to compete for.

Whether you like football or not doesn't matter, if you're a fan of athletics you should realize that football is the cornerstone of the athletic department and its competitive level is important to all the teams.

For now though, I'm one of the fans who is happy the long journey into the WAC is over. It will be a good deal for all of us.