What’s Next for the WAC?
This past Tuesday, the WAC got to have it’s taste (albeit a small one) of conference realignment power. During this past round of conference expansion between the Big Ten, Pac-10, Big 12 and MWC…it was the WAC at the bottom of the pecking order. And the result was 1/3 of the league leaving. Remaining is a 6 school hodge-podge stretching as far west as Hawaii, north to Idaho, and east to Louisiana with only Utah St., SJSU and NMSU in between.
But on Tuesday, the WAC got to wipe away the tears of losing 3 of it’s top members and hold auditions for replacements.
So here’s where we’re at with the WAC:
(4) schools made official presentations at the league meetings in Dallas this week. Each school had 45 minutes to present their case. The presenting schools were:
Football/all sports candidates UTSA & Texas St.
Non-football members Denver & Seattle
A 5th potential candidate, Montana, met with the WAC in Dallas the same day and reportedly their AD was present during the other 4 presentations. Since Montana is officially in an “exploratory phase”, they did not make a formal presentation.
According to WAC officials, the conference will next schedule campus visits to each of the schools. Formal invitations are expected to come around the same time, roughly 30-60 days from now.
When you look at the needs of the conference on paper, it could lead one to believe there is room in the WAC stable for all the schools. There are 6 current all-sports members: Hawaii, San Jose St., Idaho, Utah St., New Mexico St., LA Tech. So the WAC needs members not just to protect their football interests, but to also save their overall NCAA tournament auto-bid (basketball).
UTSA & Texas St. would bring the football and overall membership to 8 members. It’s a fine position to be in, but not the ideal protection.
While all eyes are on expansion, there still remains a chance that the WAC could lose some of it’s current members.
Hawaii has considered the option to leave for football independence and seek a home in the Big West or WCC for non-football sports (it’s worth noting that in these turbulent times, the WAC might consider Hawaii for non-football sports if they did leave). Hawaii also remains an option if the MWC ever chose to expand again.
With the MWC departures of Utah and BYU, there is a big hole in the MWC lineup in the state of Utah. The improving Utah St. program could fill that void. And with rumors of TCU and the Big East considering teaming up, the MWC could have a hole to fill to remain at 10 members. And Utah St. is certainly a potential candidate.
Louisiana Tech has always been out of it’s element in regards to the WAC footprint. In fact, the WAC has always been thankful LA Tech kept it’s membership numbers stable but has always left the door open for the school to leave for a more appropriate geographical conference fit. When the WAC installed the $5 exit fee this summer, LA Tech was exempt. LA Tech has always had it’s eyes on CUSA…but the feeling hasn’t been mutual. CUSA could still look at LA Tech should they lose members to conferences like the Big East or MWC. The Sunbelt is a more likely destination for LA Tech as there are already two Louisiana state schools in it. But LA Tech has passed on the Sunbelt as an option since the WAC provided more money due to the BCS success of Boise St. But with the shift in the WAC membership, that could always change.
So the WAC is clearly in a position to invite as many FBS schools as possible.
Of course the problem is that the only football options for the WAC are current FCS schools.
UTSA, Texas St., and Montana would bring the football membership to 9 schools. According to early comments by WAC commissioner Benson, the WAC wants even membership: 8, 10, 12. So if you include both non-football members Denver and Seattle, you’d have 11 members.
If the early comments by Benson hold, that means if all 3 football schools join the WAC, then it would mean that either Seattle or Denver could be left out.
Denver sits in the middle of the WAC footprint, is in a travel hub, and in the city of the conference headquarters. Seattle is a recent D1 upgrade on the far outskirt of the conference footprint. Both schools offer sizable markets that would benefit the WAC.
On paper, Denver looks to have the advantage which could mean Seattle is left out. However, the WAC sponsors 17 of the 19 sports that Seattle sponsors. Denver on the otherhand participates in only a small handful of sports that the WAC sponsors including the revenue sports of basketball.
But as Denver has the home field advantage of being located in the city of the WAC headquarters, they would likely get the single spot under the 10 school scenario.
As Montana is still in the “exploratory” phase, there exists a chance that the WAC would expand to 8/10 with UTSA, Texas St., Denver and Seattle. Should Montana upgrade eventually, the WAC will likely still take them in. By that time, perhaps other schools such as Lamar, Portland St., Sacramento St., Montana St. and others will be available as all-sports candidates.
Figure based on the reported timelines, we’ll have a better vision of the WAC future 30-60 days from now. If I were into sports betting, I’d put my money on Montana and UTSA joining the WAC sooner than later and start another shift in college sports.