When Karl Benson was named the fifth commissioner in the history of the Western Athletic Conference on April 20, 1994, he brought with him a wealth of experience and a personal history of success to the position.
Since that time, Benson not only has laid a strong foundation for the WAC’s future, he also steered the conference through unsettled times during the late 1990s and again a few years later when the defection of member institutions threatened the WAC.
Through his leadership and vision, it didn’t take long for the WAC to regain its place among the nation’s top Division I conferences. Benson has spearheaded conference expansion with the additions of Nevada, Boise State and Louisiana Tech earlier this decade and an additional round of expansion with the invitations of New Mexico State, Utah State and Idaho a few years ago.
Nationally, Benson has earned the respect of his peers after serving on the NCAA Management Council from 1999-2002, and a five-year term on the NCAA Men’s Basketball Committee from 2002-06.
Benson hit the ground running when he was hired in 1994 and initiated several programs that improved the conference’s national position in virtually ever category. He was instrumental in developing multi-year agreements with the Holiday Bowl, Cotton Bowl, Copper Bowl, Las Vegas Bowl, Silicon Valley Football Classic, GMAC Bowl and currently, the Roady’s Humanitarian Bowl, Sheraton Hawai‘i Bowl and New Mexico.
In the summer of 2005, he implemented “Play Up” a new marketing campaign to improve the public and private perceptions of the WAC and its members through national, local and regional touch points. The conference officially added WAC.tv prior to the 2006-07 season, giving fans streaming video access to many of the postseason championships of the sports offered by the WAC.
In 1995-96, the WAC signed an exclusive multi-year agreement with ESPN for the unprecedented live telecast of its basketball and football. Included in that deal was a women’s basketball contract, the first in conference history. In 2008, Benson negotiated an extension with ESPN that gives the WAC over 300 regular season contests and 45 championship events that will be aired through 2016-17.
Benson came to the WAC after four successful years as the commissioner of the Mid-American Conference. There, he implemented several innovative projects and was instrumental in the formation of the Las Vegas Bowl.
Prior to taking the reins of the MAC, Benson served on the NCAA staff for more than four years where he was the director of NCAA championships when selected as MAC commissioner.
Benson joined the NCAA staff in January, 1986, as a compliance representative and was appointed assistant director of championships in June, 1987. He was promoted to director of championships in 1988. In that position, Benson actively supervised eight assistant directors in their administration of 68 NCAA championships.
A native of the state of Washington, Benson graduated from high school in Pullman in 1970, attended Spokane Falls Community College and then received a bachelor of science degree in physical education from Boise State University in 1975. He has also completed course work toward his master’s degree in athletics administration at the University of Utah.
Benson played baseball at both Spokane Falls Community College and Boise State University before serving as the baseball coach at Fort Steilacoom Community College in Tacoma, Wash., for eight years and as the director of athletics at Fort Steilacoom from 1979-84. From 1984-86, he was an assistant baseball coach and an administrative assistant in the athletics department at Utah.
He received the Distinguished Alumni Award from Boise State in April of 2006.
Benson was born on December 1, 1951 and has one daughter, Jessie, 16.