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The Pac-10’s up to 12—the Mountain West’s back down to nine

by Tom Scott

Bio | Follow: @thescottslant

KTVB.COM

Posted on June 17, 2010 at 7:30 AM

 

Thursday, June 17, 2010.
 
Rewind to early this year, when Pac-10 commissioner Larry Scott first broached the subject of expansion. At that time, the odds-on favorites for invitations were Colorado and Utah. As convoluted as the realignment road has been, this is one scenario that worked out. The Utes were invited yesterday to be the Pac-10’s 12th member, but they can’t accept until today, when the school’s Board of Trustees meets. There’ll be a news conference after that gathering, at which time Utah will say, “Yes! Yes! A thousand times yes!” Boise State thus pays off as the Mountain West’s insurance policy, although the conference won’t ever paint it that way. 
 
Any inklings of the Mountain West expanding again to get back to 10 teams (Fresno State, anyone?) appear to be hollow. “Just to add for the sake of adding doesn’t make sense,” said Wyoming athletic director Tom Burman yesterday on Idaho SportsTalk. Expect the MWC to stay at nine schools for the foreseeable future. Commissioner Craig Thompson will address the subject at a press conference today—after Utah’s big briefing. And, presumably, the Mountain West’s injured hopes of becoming a BCS conference.
 
Numerous stories have WAC commissioner Karl Benson studiously exploring expansion options following the departure of Boise State. The only halfway sexy pick would be Montana, which has been a Division I-AA power since the mid-1990’s. There’s a lot for the Grizzlies to think about. Their athletic budget is only $13 million—the WAC’s average is over $20 million (Boise State’s is almost $26 million). Montana offers only 14 sports and would have to add two for a move up. The Griz average over 24,000 fans a game in football, but how would those fans react to a 7-5 season in the WAC? Montana native Brent Musburger said last month a move to the FBS would be “economic suicide.” UM does have time to think it through, as there’s a moratorium on schools even beginning the reclassification process to FBS membership until 2011.
 
Back to the Pac-10 for a moment. That conference has a big headache dead ahead. The divisions in a Pac-16 setup were actually going to work out great, with the old Pac-8 able to stick together—and the six Big 12 additions staying together. Only Arizona and Arizona State would really be griping. Now, the Northwest schools (and possibly Cal and Stanford) may have to do without a trip to Southern California every year in football to play at USC and UCLA in alternate years. And that puts a crimp in recruiting exposure in fertile SoCal.
 
With less than two weeks to go before the purchase deadline for Boise State fans, there are just 1,000 tickets left in the Broncos’ allotment for the Labor Day opener against Virginia Tech in Washington, DC. With two sure preseason Top 10 teams facing off, it’s the most highly-anticipated regular season game in BSU history—bigger than last year’s opener against Oregon. I said earlier this year I expected 10,000 Bronco fans at FedEx Field. I’m stickin’ with that.
 
As young as the Boise Hawks are, major league experience in their dugout is going to carry some clout this summer. Not only is there manager Jody Davis, the former Cub and Brave, there’s pitching coach Jeff Fassero, who played for nine teams in a 16-year big league career. Fassero retired after the 2006 season and took three years off from the game before being joining the Hawks coaching staff in December. “I plan to work my way up, just like I did in the minor leagues,” said Fassero at Memorial Stadium yesterday. What will he tell his pitchers? “Throwin’ strikes is the number one thing.” 
 
One of Fassero’s projects will be Chris Huseby, beginning his second stint with the Hawks when the season opens tomorrow night in Yakima. Huseby has lost his edge on the mound and was sent to Extended Spring Training after just three appearances at Class A Daytona. Now he comes to Boise to resuscitate his game. Huseby has had a series of arm injuries since high school, but the Cubs liked his athletic ability so much they drafted him in the 11th round anyway. At 6-7, he could get a look as a designated hitter, or at first base or in the outfield, according to Davis. Huseby was 2-5 in 15 starts with the Hawks in 2007, but he had a decent ERA of 3.39.
 
It’s hard to wade through all the players’ rights guidelines in the ECHL, but the release of season-ending rosters is significant. The Idaho Steelheads list 18 players who were on ECHL contracts last season and are allowed to extend qualifying offers to eight of them by July 1. Ashton Rome is on the roster, despite reportedly signing an AHL contract with Hershey for next season. One guy who should get an offer from the Steelheads is Cody Lampl, the first true Idahoan ever to play for the club. The defenseman from Ketchum distinguished himself with 13 points and 45 penalty minutes in 44 games.
 
You’ll see in today’s “This Day In Sports” item that it was six years ago today the idea of reviving football was raised at the College of Idaho. The subject was tabled a few years later, but now there are rumblings that it’s front-burner again. In March, George Fox University in Oregon announced a return to football beginning in 2013 after going without since 1968. George Fox will compete in NCAA Division III in the Northwest Conference, which is where opportunity may knock for the Coyotes. I’m of a mind that there’s a market for C of I football.
 
This Day In Sports…June 17, 2004:
 
In back-to-back days, two local bombshells are dropped during an otherwise slow sports week. Boise State announced a 15-year deal to rename the Pavilion as Taco Bell Arena. That came a day after Albertson College (now College of Idaho) athletic director Marty Holly first broke word of the Coyotes exploring a return to football, a sport the school had dropped after the 1977 season. Nothing has come from the latter, although now I’m hearing something yet may.
 
(Tom Scott hosts the Scott Slant segment Sunday nights at 10:30PM on KTVB’s Sunday Sports Extra and anchors five sports segments each weekday on 1350 KTIK/The Ticket. He’s also handled color commentary on KTVB’s telecasts of Boise State football the last five seasons.)

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