Before too long—anywhere from 48 hours to 72 days after the season begins—the scores will start filtering across the Continental Divide from schools in the Western Athletic Conference, and we will find out what mysterious events are occurring this time in college basketball's version of Death Wish.
The mad WAC, somewhere out there in the mesquite between Saskatchewan and Juarez, doesn't really play in a ghost time zone when everyone else is asleep. Neither do the teams score 500 points in games that go on for months before finally being decided by referees with knives in their teeth. Nor does the league hire gypsies, tramps and thieves to scour the countryside looking for young student athletes who can shoot, rebound, pass junior-college whittling and rob liquor stores. It only seems that way.
It has always seemed, in fact, that the lowest thing on the face of the earth, other than a turnip, is the reputation of the Western Athletic Conference.
Correct this if it's wrong, but isn't the WAC the place where every year some dude with a name like Tyrone (Ice Cream) Kone comes out of Our Lady of Perpetual Humiliation High School in the Bronx and is supposed to turn around the program at the Desperado School of Engineering and Mines in Ragsdale, Utah? Kone scored 77 points a game as a prepster, grabbed 62 rebounds per contest and received 19,438 scholarship offers; his agent, Louie (The Shuffler) Zaccato, counted 'em personally.
But, having failed to attain a G average in chutes and ladders, isn't Kone left with only two choices? He can opt for the junior-college ranks by enrolling at Rio de Cucaracha Community College, which is located among several tepees on the Yavapai Indian reservation, or he can head for the WAC.
And doesn't he choose the WAC because it promises him jobs for all 36 of his brothers and sisters? And, once he gets out there, doesn't he languish on the bench at basketball games because he finds the adjustment to desert living too hard to handle? Kone spends his freshman year losing his socks in the campus laundry, getting so homesick he calls back to New York four times an hour and regularly flunking his current-affairs test because he does not know whether Ben-Veniste is a new antihistamine or the drummer for Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes.
As a sophomore, doesn't Tyrone get involved in a series of events that shake the sport? He goes for 97 points in his first start in the WAC and immediately signs a lifetime, no-cut, no-work, professional-hardship draft contract in return for three stolen credit cards from General Manager Kuyang (Hammerin') Tongs of the Mekong Delta Dawns in the new World Basketball League. Before he can get off campus, isn't Kone's career ended by a dislocated terminal pull-tear spasm of the ear?
Isn't this what happens in the WAC?
For a long time now the WAC has suffered from that kind of generalization and misinformation about its players, its teams and its brand of basketball. Nobody is exactly sure why this has come about, but the fact that WAC territory encompasses 98% of the mountains and only 3% of the population in America has not aided the search for reality. Since distance breeds skepticism, and people are never entirely sure of something they have never seen, there is still a pervasive Wild West folklore about the conference. It confers on the league an aura of danger, romance and excitement unlike any other in the NCAA.
The WAC is the newest conference playing both major-college football and basketball. Only once has its basketball champion emerged into the light of the national final four to be observed firsthand by the semiomniscient national media, not to mention a few million regular-type people.