WAC adds Cal State-Bakersfield, Utah Valley

WAC adds Cal State-Bakersfield, Utah Valley

DENVER (AP) The Western Athletic Conference is adding Cal State-Bakersfield and Utah Valley next year as it punts away football after a half-century on the gridiron.

The 50-year-old WAC is the first Division I conference to give up on football since the Southwest Conference dissolved in 1995, but the additions of Cal State-Bakersfield and Utah Valley assured at least for now that it won't also go the way of the SWC, and cease to exist altogether.

``I want to emphasize this is the first step of what I would anticipate to be a multi-step process,'' interim commissioner Jeff Hurd said Tuesday. ``The WAC certainly has more work to do but we're pleased today that we're able to take this step and I think it sends a message that the WAC is here to stay, that we will be here not only in `13-14 but beyond as we in essence reinvent ourselves.''

Hurd said he will continue looking for other new members as the league makes the transition from an FBS conference to a non-football playing Division I conference in 2013-14.

A big carrot is the two-year exemption that allows the WAC to have an automatic qualifier for the NCAA men's and women's basketball tournaments and other team sports even though the league doesn't have the requisite seven schools.

The makeup as it stands now is: Denver, Seattle, New Mexico State and Idaho and the two new schools, although Idaho has been in discussions with the Big Sky about returning to that conference. If Idaho bolts, the WAC would have to scramble to add another institution or lose its automatic NCAA tournament berths.

Hurd said his goal is to return football to the WAC some day. He'll need to attract at least four more programs. The only two schools that have football, Idaho and New Mexico State, have plans to play as FBS independents next season.

``Our priority right now is to move forward as a non-football conference and try to build it in that direction,'' Hurd said.

The WAC's five other football members - Louisiana Tech, San Jose State, Texas State, Utah State and Texas-San Antonio - are leaving the league after this year. San Jose State and Utah State are joining the Mountain West. Louisiana Tech and Texas-San Antonio will join Conference USA, and Texas State will go to the Sun Belt in 2013.

Hurd said he hopes to build the league to at least 10 institutions, ``but we had to get to where we are today first before we can go further. Our next objective is to at least get to eight.'' He said he's in almost daily discussions with schools about joining the WAC.

Like Utah Valley, Cal State-Bakersfield, currently an independent with an enrollment of 8,200, is a relative newcomer to the Division I ranks. The Roadrunners will join the WAC in 16 of 18 sports - their wrestling and women's water polo programs aren't sports that are sponsored by the WAC.

Utah Valley is a member of the Great West Conference. Fourteen of the Wolverines' 15 intercollegiate sports - all except wrestling - will compete in the WAC. In 2009, Utah Valley, with an enrollment of 33,000, became the first institution to leap to Division I directly from junior college status.

``It's a great opportunity for our school,'' Utah Valley athletic director Mike Jacobsen said. ``We've worked long and hard for the past five years to bring this to fruition. The WAC has always been No. 1 on our list, we've always wanted to be a part of them.''

Both new schools will be involved in any discussions about further WAC expansion even though their membership isn't effective until July 1, 2013, Hurd said.

The WAC has been around for half a century but found itself irrelevant in football in the rapidly changing landscape of conference realignment. It has recently lost Boise State, Nevada, Fresno State and Hawaii while adding Denver and Seattle as non-football playing members.

The league was formed in 1962 with six schools - Arizona, Arizona State, BYU, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming - that jumped ship long ago. Colorado State and Texas-El Paso were also long-time members that left, leaving the league with a hodgepodge of smaller schools.

The high mark of the WAC's football existence was BYU's national title in 1984 under coach LaVell Edwards. Cougars quarterback Ty Detmer won the league's only Heisman Trophy six years later, and Boise State had two unbeaten seasons (2006, `09) in its nine-year stint as the league's heavyweight.


Reach out to AP Pro Football Writer Arnie Melendrez Stapleton on Twitter:http://twitter.com/arniestapleton

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Phil Chenier becomes fifth Bullets player to ever have his jersey retired


Phil Chenier becomes fifth Bullets player to ever have his jersey retired

On the newest banner that hangs from the rafters at Capital One Arena, a small microphone - embroidered with a white 33 - is subtly stitched into the bottom left corner. 

You'd barely notice it was there; Phil Chenier certainly didn't.

Chenier, who had his #45 jersey retired tonight during halftime of tonight's Wizards-Nuggets game, didn't even notice the mic, added to signify his three decades as a broadcaster with the team.

"I had no idea there was even a mic on it," Chenier said, laughing. "I'll have to go back out and look at it some more."

Despite the Wizards' 108-100 loss, the night was first and foremost a celebration of Chenier - the 5th player in franchise history to have his number rasied in the rafters. He joins Earl Monroe, Elvin Hayes, Gus Johnson, and Wes Unseld as the only players to achieve the honor so far.

"To be up there with the other 4 names means a lot – people I had the fortune of playing with," he added. "I remember my first day of practice and I had just watched this team play in the finals and now I’m plopped down with Wes Unfeld and Earl Monroe and Gus Johnson. It seemed like they accepted me from the get go."

Many from that 1978 Championship team were in attendance on Friday night, watching as one of their teammates cemented his professional legacy. For Chenier, that acceptance as an All-Time Bullets great is at the core of why he played the game.

"You know, when you play this game, you play for acceptance," he said. "You want to be the best, you want to be accepted. Having players and childhood friends – and of course, your family – here, you’re surrounded by so many people that meant a lot to you both before and now. It’s a really humbling feeling.”

It was hard to find someone in DC without something good to say about Chenier on Friday night. Even in the basement of Capital One Center, after the Wizards' fifth loss in seven games, head coach Scott Brooks took a moment out of his press conference to praise Chenier. 

"[Chenier] is a great ambassador and we all love him," Brooks said. "It's well deserved. It's going to be pretty cool seeing his jersey every time we step into this building."

Fans left the arena with a commemorative Phil Chenier cut out. Phil Chenier left the arena with his number retired. The experience was, according to the man himself, everything he thought it'd be. 

"You don’t know what the emotions are going to be..." he told media members after the ceremony."...Obviously it’s something I thought about, but it really was exciting to see the 45 up there and my name."

Then Chenier cracked a smile.

"I’m glad it’s over with."

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Wizards lose again, this time to Nuggets as offense falls flat

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Wizards lose again, this time to Nuggets as offense falls flat

The Washington Wizards lost to the Denver Nuggets 108-100 on Friday night. Here's analysis of what went down...

Another loss: It is becoming more and more clear that the Wizards need a shot in the arm, something to change the direction of where they are currently heading.

Whether that will come in the form of All-Star point guard John Wall returning from his months-long absence, an adjustment to their lineup or strategy, or something else entirely, the losses are piling up and at a tough time in the season.

With another loss on Friday night, their seventh in their last 11 games, the Wizards are now 40-32. They have plenty of room to still clinch a playoff berth, as their magic number stands at two, but they only have 10 games left to secure their all-important playoff seed.

Both the Pacers and Cavaliers, two teams just ahead of them in the playoff race, won on Friday.

The Wizards lost their second straight game and again offense was their problem. They scored 100 points, six below their season average, and committed 17 turnovers.

Big third quarter: The Denver Nuggets have emerged as a team on the rise, a young squad with burgeoning stars that could someday soon make some noise in the Western Conference. The reason is because they are very good on offense. Defense is a much different story.

That was not the case on Friday night, as the Wizards had all sorts of trouble scoring in three of their four quarters. They managed just 43 points by halftime, the fewest the Nuggets have allowed in a first half since Jan. 27.

The Wizards, though, did get cooking in the third quarter. They erupted for 33 points in the frame while shooting 63.2 percent from the field and 58.3 percent from three. Markieff Morris, who finished with 17, had 11 points in the third quarter and Bradley Beal (24 points) hit three threes.

The Wizards also found a solution for Jamal Murray, one of the Nuggets' brightest young stars. He had 20 points at halftime, but went scoreless in nine minutes in the third quarter. Kelly Oubre, Jr. (15 points) was among those who gave him trouble. Murry finished with 25.

The big third quarter reflected well on the Wizards' ability to make adjustments, but their 24-point fourth quarter flipped the script again.


Didn't force mistakes: The first time these teams squared off back in October, the Wizards forced the Nuggets into 23 turnovers. This game was a very different story. 

The Nuggets didn't commit their first turnover until midway through the second quarter and had only three by halftime. They had just 10 turnovers for the game.

Denver deserves some credit for limiting their mistakes, but all of it did not reflect well on the Wizards' defense. They didn't put enough pressure on the ball and failed to disrupt passing lanes like they usually do. It was uncharacteristic, as the Wizards entered the game 10th in average turnovers forced.

Not creating mistakes allowed the Nuggets to get way to many field goal attempts. Though they shot just 43.5 percent, Denver managed 108 points. And not getting turnovers offered the Wizards few opportunities for easy transition buckets.

Turnovers were one issue with the Wizards' defense. So was defending the perimeter, as the Nuggets shot 17-for-34 (50%) from long range. It is worth noting the Nuggets were without their leading scorer Gary Harris, a guy who is dangerous from long range.


Special night: Halftime offered a memorable moment in franchise history as legendary player and broadcast Phil Chenier had his No. 45 jersey retired by the team. His longtime broadcaster and friend Steve Buckhantz hosted the ceremony with about 20 friends and family members of Chenier's seated behind him. Buckhantz had opening comments, then majority owner Ted Leonsis spoke as everyone in the crowd stood and cheered.

Then, it was Chenier's time to talk. He thanked his former teammates, members of the organization and those close to him. He kept his composure until the very end when he brought up his mother, Peggy, who could not make the event. Chenier choked up and wiped away tears as he described what she has meant to him in his life.

It was a powerful moment and a great ceremony to honor a guy who has impacted the lives of many in the D.C. area. Now, his No. 45 will hang up in the rafters forever. That banner, by the way, features a picture of a microphone and the phrase '33 years,' signifying how long he was the color analyst for Bullets and Wizards games.


Up next: The Wizards do not have a game Saturday, though they are going to practice and Wall is expected to take a big step forward in his rehab. Their next game is Sunday at 6 p.m. on NBC Sports Washington when they host the Knicks. That will also be a special game, as the Wizards are set to honor the 40th anniversary of their 1978 NBA championship.

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