DENVER -- The Western Athletic Conference has filed a lawsuit to force Nevada and Fresno State to stay in the league through the 2011-12 school year before leaving for the Mountain West Conference.
WAC commissioner Karl Benson said Tuesday on a conference call that the league filed a complaint last week in Jefferson County District Court in Colorado.
"The damages the WAC could incur if Fresno State and Nevada left early are very, very significant," Benson said. "That's what has driven this: to protect the assets of the WAC as a corporate entity."
Benson said WAC bylaws state a member must inform the conference it is leaving for another league by July 1 or that departing member is obligated to stay through the next two school years.
Nevada and Fresno State announced they had accepted invitations to the MWC on July 18 and both have indicated they would like to leave the WAC and be in their new conference for the 2011 football season.
Benson said he has contacted the leaders of Nevada and Fresno State, seeking assurances that they will remain in the WAC through June 30, 2012. But those assurances have not come, he said.
"I thought the filing of the complaint would initiate some discussion," Benson said.
But Nevada and Fresno State still have not contacted the commissioner, Benson said.
Both presidents expressed dismay in statements released by their schools.
"It is unfortunate that this matter has moved to litigation before any discussions between the parties were undertaken. We have been very public about our desire to resolve these matters directly with the Western Athletic Conference and to do so as expeditiously as possible," Nevada president Milt Glick said in a statement
Fresno president Dr. John Welty said: "We've been advised by the WAC that it has initiated legal action. That is unfortunate. We believe that all the issues can be resolved through discussion rather than through costly legal proceedings."
The WAC also expects Nevada and Fresno State to pay a $5 million exit fee. Benson said the fee is not mentioned in the lawsuit and is a separate issue.
Boise State accepted an invitation from the Mountain West Conference in early June and will leave the WAC after this season.
After Broncos announced they would leave, the WAC's other members -- including Nevada and Fresno State -- voted to implement the steep exit fee to protect the conference from further defections.
The other members of the WAC are Hawaii, Idaho, Utah State, Louisiana Tech, San Jose State and New Mexico State.
Benson said he expects the WAC to remain an eight-team conference in the 2011-12 season. He has said it is highly unlikely the WAC would be able to have new members in place before the 2012 football season.
"We've declared pretty consistently that the football schedule for 2011 would be drastically challenging for the remaining members if they lost two football games less than a year away," Benson said.
He added the early departure of Nevada and Fresno State would also damage contractual agreements the WAC has with bowl games and ESPN.