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WAC-y Departure
by Harry Spencer
Sep 03, 2010 | 1521 views | 0 0 comments | 6 6 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Tribune File/John Byrne - Nevada quarterback Colin Kaepernick looks downfield during a game against Boise State on Nov. 21 2008. Nevada is hoping to leave the Western Athletic Conference and join the Mountain West Conference.
Tribune File/John Byrne - Nevada quarterback Colin Kaepernick looks downfield during a game against Boise State on Nov. 21 2008. Nevada is hoping to leave the Western Athletic Conference and join the Mountain West Conference.
What looked like a milk and honey situation when the University of Nevada, Reno first announced that it was leaving the Western Athletic Conference (WAC) to join the Mountain West Conference (MWC) has now soured over the ensuing weeks.

It seems that WAC Commissioner Karl Benson is dead set on collecting $5 million each from Nevada and Fresno State as a penalty for leaving the WAC early.

According to the latest reports, as of Wednesday, UNR President Milton Glick is just as adamant about not paying the stiff penalty. And who can blame him? Currently, the Nevada Athletic Department is some $800,000 in the red with no signs it will recover soon.

The controversy has gotten so hot that now lawyers are weighing in on the issue by noting that the WAC bylaws and code of ethics say two different things about the defection matter. If it comes to a battle in the courtroom, people can be sure that it will dominate the sports pages for quite a spell.

Adding fuel to the fire this week was the announcement that BYU was definitely leaving the MWC and going independent in football and choosing another conference for its lesser sports. That conference will not be the WAC, as previously reported.

This leaves the WAC in a pretty untenable position since other defections could be on the horizon and the word among the football intelligentsia of the nation is that several of the smaller conferences are still in danger of being gobbled up by the major conferences.

The big shake up is occurring because of the lucrative TV deals that are apparently abundant for major performers that earn eventual shot at the BCS bowls.

It is widely rumored that the MWC would like to become a 12 member group, thus ensuring a major playoff for the league title.

Closer to home, Glick and the UNR Athletic Director Cary Groth have gone on the record saying the only way that Nevada can dig its way out of the athletic financial hole it now finds itself in, is to get more attendance at home football games. Average attendance over the past several years has only been a little more than 17,000 in the 29,000 capacity Mackay Stadium.

HAN battle lines drawn

Wednesday’s meeting at the Reno Sparks Convention and Visitors Center to discuss the future of Hot August Nights (HAN) in northern Nevada did nothing to bring the two sides together. Instead, the reps from the hotels and casinos as well as local government entities were “put in their place” by the HAN attorney Dan Bowen, who said none of the HAN board members would be answering questions that they would consider at their October retreat.

Probably the most cogent remarks at the meeting came from Rick Murdock, the vice president of marketing for the Eldorado Hotel and Casino. Murdock rightly pointed out that by cutting the number of days HAN would be in Reno could severely impact the economic situation of all those workers that hold tourist related jobs in Washoe County. In doing so, he was probably echoing the overwhelming sentiment of most residents of this area when it comes to the current status of HAN and its executive director, Bruce Walter.

Until Wednesday’s public airing of the controversy, Walter has been the lone target of the overwhelming fusillade of criticism regarding the shortening of Reno’s biggest summer event and the placement of Long Beach, Calif., and South Lake Tahoe ahead of the Reno-Sparks celebration.

For Walter, his main defense has been that he was only carrying out the wishes of his board when it came to the monumental changes to Reno’s signature event.

If that be true, then members of the board of directors need to be polled and asked to step forward and out of the shadows and state their reasons publicly for the staggering changes.

Another bombshell that was dropped on Wednesday was the admission that HAN has been in negotiations for about two years with the city of Long Beach regarding the relocation of the event to the city. The reason for the covert action, as Bowen was quoted as saying, was that if the word had gotten out, Wednesday’s meeting probably would have occurred two years ago and might have seriously impacted HAN’s ability to strike a deal with the Southern California city.

If that be true, then the major stakeholders — local hotels and casinos and the cities of Reno and Sparks — would seem to have every right to question the authority of the HAN board to arbitrarily take an event that has been years in the making, and financed by, volunteers and major sponsors, out of the area willy nilly.

The most proactive action taken thus far has been by Reno Councilman Dan Gustin, who, upon learning of the Long Beach deal in July promptly went to Carson City and trademarked the HAN name.

The Reno Sparks Convention and Visitors Authority's (RSCVA) role in seeing that HAN be continued in northern Nevada, and returned to its original schedule, is propelled by the fact that HAN is one of the largest room-filling events in Washoe County. Since the RSCVA exists entirely on funds generated by the room tax, every unsold room is reflected in its gross revenue.

Since neither side seems willing to budge an inch, it looks as if the matter will continue to fester and generate more animosity at least until HAN’s October retreat is over and written responses, if any, are released.

Harry Spencer is a freelance writer in Reno. His column about the past and present of northern Nevada appears weekly in the Tribune.

Editor’s note: Opinions expressed in Harry Spencer’s column are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Tribune.
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WAC-y Departure by Harry Spencer

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