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WAC Expansion: Benson Calls Seattle University 'The Best Possible School' For The Conference

It should come as no surprise that the growth potential for men's basketball was a significant reason for the Western Athletic Conference to invite the Seattle University Redhawks into the fold as its ninth member.

"WAC men's basketball has the potential to be a revenue producer for us and we need to get better at basketball," WAC Commissioner Karl Benson said this afternoon during a media teleconference. "When you look at the demographics of the University of Denver or Seattle University, I don't think there is any reason why they couldn't be the next Gonzaga."

Yet among the reasons that Western Athletic Conference commissioner Karl Benson listed for inviting Seattle University into the fold as a non-football member, one that might stand out as mildly ironic for Seattle basketball fans is KeyArena.

The arena that was at the center of the Seattle Sonics' departure from the city was mentioned repeatedly as a reason that the Seattle U. Redhawks were an attractive candidate to add to the conference.

"Seattle is a great sports market and without the NBA being in Seattle we think that the WAC has an opportunity to have some interest in college basketball," said WAC commissioner Karl Benson in a media teleconference today.

Seattle University's move to KeyArena for men's basketball was one of the first things Benson mentioned among the qualities that made the conference's newest addition attractive and he even mentioned the possibility of their new addition providing a new location for the conference's tournament.

"KeyArena is a NBA facility," Benson said. "Again, as we look for future sites for the WAC tournament, we will give strong consideration to Seattle."

Of course, KeyArena was not the lone reason or even a clearly most significant reason - the invite comes after an assessment of what Seattle University offers as a whole.

"Seattle U had the academic characteristics, athletic characteristics, and media market and so we selected Seattle University," Benson said.

Other reasons Benson mentioned for the addition of Seattle University:

  • Seattle University's commitment to improving their sports programs.

  • High-profile coaching hires in men's (former University of Washington assistant Cameron Dollar) and women's basketball (former University of Arizona coach Joan Bonvicini).

    "KeyArena, Cameron Dollar," Benson said. "I think that in the last two years Seattle U has shown their commitment to Division I (athletics).

  • Seattle is not only a top-15 media market, but also a new market for the WAC in a city without the NBA to compete for attention, as Benson noted.

  • Seattle U's multi-million dollar soccer facility, which has already garnered plenty of attention as being one of the top soccer complexes in the nation and hosted a practice for the Colorado Rapids of the MLS.

    "It wouldn't surprise me if the WAC women's soccer championship was held in Seattle," Benson said.

  • The timing was right after Seattle U was left out of the first round of additions.

    "When the University of Hawaii made their departure from the WAC in December that put us in a different environment," Benson said. "That has allowed Seattle U. to emerge as the best possible school for us."

Although the above qualities are what secured an invite for Seattle U., Benson was also clear that the Redhawks were not necessarily competing against possible football schools, having pursued them as well this past January. They also did not rule out the possibility of inviting a second school with Seattle U to bring the conference's membership to 10, with both Utah Valley University and California State Bakersfield being considered but not ultimately being invited.

But ultimately, Seattle U stood out as the clear choice for the current membership of the WAC, although Benson said they would not reveal the actual vote count.

"I think Seattle U. the clear consensus school that brings the most for the WAC to go to," Benson said.