HONOLULU -- The Western Athletic Conference is trying to lure North Texas while clinging onto hopes of keeping its longest-running member, Hawaii, from bolting to the Mountain West Conference.
WAC Commissioner Karl Benson held a teleconference Monday in an effort to quash questions about the viability of the beleaguered conference that's reeling from the departure of its top football programs. Powerhouse Boise State is leaving next year while Fresno State, Nevada and Hawaii plan to leave in 2012.
"The purpose of today's call is to eliminate any of the reports that we aren't going to survive," he said. "This is a very strong statement that the WAC is prepared to move forward and do whatever it takes to continue our operations."
Benson said he spoke Monday with North Texas, a member of the Sun Belt Conference, about joining the WAC. Also, if TCU joins the Big East in football, Benson hopes to land the Horned Frogs in other sports.
"But our main focus right now is to do everything we can to keep the University of Hawaii," he said.
Hawaii recently announced that it was close to leaving the WAC after 32 years and joining the Mountain West for football and possibly the Big West in other sports. University of Hawaii President M.R.C. Greenwood talked to Mountain West Commissioner Craig Thompson by phone Thursday, and said she was confident a deal would be worked out.
As of Monday, the MWC had not yet extended an invite to Hawaii.
Benson plans to meet with Hawaii athletic director Jim Donovan on Tuesday at the WAC volleyball championship in Las Vegas.
"Our desire here is to let the University of Hawaii know they're a valuable piece of the WAC and we will work with them to try to come up with some structure that will be beneficial to them and to the WAC," Benson said.
Hawaii didn't have any immediate response.
Benson declined to say what proposals he might make to Hawaii, which also considered becoming an independent.
The possible addition of North Texas would give the WAC three schools in the Lone Star State, and eight to start the football season in 2012.
The WAC needs a minimum of eight schools to retain its FBS status. Even a seven-school football conference wouldn't affect the FBS status of individual schools or prevent them playing in the postseason. It would, however, diminish the WAC's reputation.
The WAC has announced it would add Texas-San Antonio, Texas State and the University of Denver on July 1, 2012. Denver doesn't have a football team.
Donovan had noted these schools send the WAC farther into the middle of the country geographically, away from Hawaii, and thus would increase the school's travel expenses.
Other WAC members are San Jose State, Idaho, New Mexico State, Louisiana Tech and Utah State.
Benson said the WAC is aggressively trying to pursue another football-playing school. He said the WAC ideally would want to get to a nine-team conference, but his goal now is to get back to eight.
If the WAC loses more schools, Benson said he's prepared with a list of other schools.
"Right now, we're focusing on the fact we have five members that are committed and three coming in July 1, 2012, that will get us to the eight," he said.