Report: WAC to Invite Montana to Join Conference

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MISSOULA, Mont. (AP) - The commissioner of the Western Athletic
Conference says the league is seriously considering Montana as it looks for new members.

Commissioner Karl Benson told the Missoulian, "that as the WAC goes forward with its plan for future membership, the University of Montana is high on our list. And the assets that Montana could bring to the WAC are very significant," including the university's academic profile and its successful football and men's and women's basketball teams.

Benson spoke to the newspaper Tuesday, the same day Montana
athletic director Jim O'Day was in Dallas attending a 90 minute
"information gathering" meeting with the WAC presidents and athletic directors.

"It was just to basically answer questions from us, if we had any," O'Day said. "Nothing really came out of it other than the fact that they have a real interest in the University of Montana."

O'Day has said he expects Montana will receive an invitation to join the WAC, and some tough decisions will have to be made about whether to leave the Big Sky Conference and move up to the Football Bowl Subdivision.

"We fit a lot into their mold. But we're also in a good spot where we're at," in the Football Championship Subdivision, O'Day said. "It's complicated, and it's going to get much more so in the coming months."

Montana has also begun an internal assessment that "will be very helpful in determining the future direction of Grizzly Athletics during these turbulent times," O'Day said in a statement released by the school.

The decisions will mainly fall to Royce Engstrom, who succeeds George Dennison as UM's president on Oct. 15. The state Board of
Regents would also have to approve any move.

The WAC is a nine-team league for football and basketball, but Boise State, Nevada and Fresno State are leaving for the Mountain West Conference while Hawaii is considering moving to independent status for football and to another league for other sports.

O'Day said Texas-San Antonio, Texas State-San Marcos, Seattle University and the University of Denver made presentations to league officials about joining as basketball-only members. O'Day wasn't asked to give a presentation.

Benson said Wednesday that league officials expect to begin visiting the campuses of all five schools in the next month or two and "could be ready to extend invitations" over that same period of time, the Salt Lake Tribune reported.

"That's probably our goal," he said during a conference call, but he did not rule out later invitations.