MWC invites Fresno St., Nevada

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) - The conference shuffle has restarted.

Or, at least, there are invitations out there waiting for a response.

The Mountain West Conference announced on Wednesday that it has invited Fresno State and Nevada of the Western Athletic Conference to leave the WAC for the MWC. The Mountain West is losing Utah _ and possibly BYU _ next season but gaining Boise State, another WAC school.

The MWC announcement came just minutes after league member BYU acknowledged reports that the Cougars could be going independent in football and joining the WAC in all other sports. The BYU statement stopped well short of confirming any of the reports, saying only that the school will explore its options.

Milt Glick, the school president at Nevada, issued a statement saying the Wolf Pack would explore the Mountain West invitation.

“We are seriously considering the invitation, and do so with the best interests of our athletics program, University, community and Wolf Pack fans as our priority,” Glick said.

Fresno State president John D. Welty issued a remarkably similar statement, adding that the Bulldogs were honored by the invitation and would consider it.

WAC commissioner Karl Benson was out of the office Wednesday and did not immediately return calls and e-mails seeking comment.

MWC commissioner Craig Thompson was also unavailable for comment on what may or may not be another round of the conference shuffle.

The Mountain West lured Boise State in early June, but learned less than a week later that Utah was leaping west to a higher-profile spot in the Pac-10 along with Colorado. So the Pac-10 becomes 12 and the Big 12, which also lost Nebraska to the Big Ten, settled at 10 members when Texas agreed to stay and keep the remaining parts of the league intact.

BYU, owned by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, was left out of the various realignments and athletic director Tom Holmoe said last month that going independent was an option the Cougars would consider. BYU already has its own television network _ BYU-TV _ which would get the Cougars out of having to share the Mountain West’s TV network with the league’s other eight members.

“We have a national base. We can go all over the country and people can see that,” Holmoe told reporters last month. “That is a very important thing to us right now _ exposure.”

The Salt Lake Tribune published Holmoe’s comments on Wednesday after the rumors that the Cougars were going back to the WAC surfaced, then erupted when somebody apparently hacked Colorado State’s athletics Twitter account and said an announcement was imminent.

The Tribune, citing an unidentified WAC source, said BYU’s move was awaiting approval of church leaders. A church spokeswoman referred calls back to BYU, which released a brief statement late in the day after media relations workers were bombarded with calls and e-mail.

The statement did nothing to tone down speculation on whether conference realignment was really back again two months after it appeared settled for at least a little while.

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