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Originally published Sunday, June 12, 2011 at 8:00 PM

Seattle University could get invite to Western Athletic Conference by Tuesday

WAC Board of Directors could add Redhawks as a non-football member at meetings this week.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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Seattle University could receive an invitation to join the Western Athletic Conference when the WAC's Board of Directors meets Monday and Tuesday in Park City, Utah.

WAC commissioner Karl Benson told The Times last week that "membership possibilities are on the agenda" and that "we are considering future members and Seattle University is one of the school that is being considered."

Seattle U. officials made an official presentation to the WAC last fall and SU has been on the list of schools the conference is considering ever since.

If invited, Seattle U. would be a non-football-playing member and would join for the 2012-13 academic year. That is also the first year that the Seattle U.'s men's basketball team would be eligible for the NCAA tournament.

An invitation, if extended, would likely come on Tuesday and Benson said that "I would expect that it would be immediate acknowledgment" of a decision to accept. Invitations must be extended and accepted by July 1 for schools to join in time for the 2012-13 season.

Seattle U. athletic director Bill Hogan in the past has spoken enthusiastically about the school's chances of landing in the WAC. However, school athletic department officials said last week they did not want to comment on the upcoming meetings.

After the meetings last fall, Hogan said that 17 of Seattle U.'s 19 sports would be able to move to the WAC and that "it would fit us quite well."

Seattle U. has been searching for a conference since launching its return to Division I athletics in 2007. It played its first full season of D-I men's basketball in 2009-10, hiring former Washington assistant Cameron Dollar as head coach.

Seattle U. was a member of the West Coast Conference before dropping out of Division I in 1980, and it was initially assumed that conference might again be a good fit for the Redhawks. But the WCC has not shown interest in inviting Seattle U., recently adding Brigham Young for men's basketball, apparently satisfied to end its expansion there.

The WAC has undergone significant shuffling in recent years, with Boise State moving to the Mountain West after last season, and it will lose Fresno State, Hawaii and Nevada after the 2011-12 season.

Its five remaining members are Idaho, Louisiana Tech, Utah State, San Jose State and New Mexico State. Texas State, the University of Texas at San Antonio and Denver will join on July 1, 2012. Denver will be a non-football-playing member, the same status Seattle U. would be seeking.

Benson has said previously the WAC has placed the most urgency on beefing up its football-playing membership to replace some of the schools that have departed. But adding Seattle U. would give a natural partner to Denver as another non-football member.

Dollar has said in the past he did not think playing as an independent was a hindrance to growth of the men's basketball program. Being in the WAC, however, would make it much easier to get into the NCAA tournament — via winning the conference tournament — which some have said would also make Seattle U. more attractive to recruits.

While the WAC's football image has taken a significant hit with the loss of schools such as Boise State and Nevada, its basketball reputation was helped when Utah State — which last year went 30-4 and has played in the NCAA tournament 20 times — decided to stay in the conference.

Benson said that if invitations are made this week, it wouldn't preclude more moves being made.

There has been speculation that the WAC is continuing to target FCS schools such as Montana and Montana State for inclusion should those schools decide to make the move to D-I.

As for Seattle U., Benson said it could offer a lot to the WAC.

"In general, just its history and tradition, especially on the men's basketball side," he said. "Seattle offers a major market and they have a strong academic history."

Bob Condotta: 206-515-5699 or bcondotta@seattletimes.com

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