Though three of its schools have won national titles, two of those—Wyoming's in 1943 and Utah's in 1944—came long before the league was founded, and the third was won under an assumed name. That would be the 1966 title taken by Texas Western, which was once the Texas School of Mines and is now the University of Texas at El Paso ( UTEP).
In the early 1960s, as the old Border and Skyline conferences were foundering, their larger members must have suddenly decided that nobody knew or cared whether Hardin-Simmons was an institution of higher learning or a candy bar. So the basketball-strong, growing schools shucked H-S and the rest and merged into the Western Athletic Conference in 1962. Today it consists of the six charter members—Wyoming, Utah, Brigham Young, New Mexico, Arizona and Arizona State—along with UTEP and Colorado State, which joined five years ago.
In the early days of the conference, skid-'n'-shoot offense was as customary as disdain for defense among WAC teams. The runnin'-gunnin' crews of Arizona State, BYU and Utah were stunnin' until they got into postseason playoffs. Then there was no funnin'.
Also part of the WAC style was the ease with which junior-college players infiltrated the campuses, even though their academic backgrounds tended to be heavy on things like checkers.
Other areas of college life provided diversion for those recruits who found classroom life a bit limiting. One youngster at Colorado State was caught stealing funds from a turkey raffle for Vietnam orphans. One lad from New Mexico was ticketed for driving his auto while watching a backseat TV through the rear-view mirror. Another Lobo player was apprehended, nude and wielding a butcher knife, in the midst of an inadvertent LSD trip. Arizona State once enrolled a prospect equipped with expertise in the practice of assault and battery. And even this year one of New Mexico's prize JC players was picked up on a rape charge the same day he signed a grant-in-aid.
Some of the league's better-known four-year students have not exactly uplifted academic standards. Billy (The Hill) McGill departed Utah a year before the WAC was formed, but his classroom weaknesses were so well-known the university was forced to tighten entrance requirements. A standing joke among Wyoming alumni concerns the search to find anyone who attended a class with Flynn Robinson; Flynn spent most of his time at Laramie as the doorman at Poor Bill's, a nifty after-hours establishment.
In defense of the WAC, it must be pointed out that the league is hardly alone in providing a haven for educational no-accounts, athletic hoodlums and NCAA scholarship violators who spend their senior years living in motel rooms—as the WAC's most recent All-America did. The league's most beleaguered school, UTEP, is the constant target of unconfirmed allegations and stupid racial ridicule about its 1966 national champions, a mostly black contingent that whipped Kentucky's all-white squad in the finals. Contrary to recent charges, no member of that team is in jail, and all but two have been graduated from college.
In contrast to all of this are WAC graduates' contributions in government, business, education, religion and the arts. Barry Goldwater, Frank Sinatra Jr. and Vonda Kay Van Dyke attended conference schools; Johnny Miller developed his golf at BYU; Jack Anderson learned his journalism at Utah; and Geraldo Rivera was just plain Jerry when he attended Arizona.
As a result of the WAC's travail in other areas, its considerable accomplishments on the basketball court and at the gate also have gone largely unnoticed.
Strength? Two years ago five WAC teams won 16 games or more. Last year five won 18 or more, and the WAC was one of two leagues to send representatives to the three postseason tournaments. Its record vs. nonconference opponents was 65-30.