The Salt Lake Tribune is reporting Utah State leaving the on-life support WAC for the Mountain West is “a done deal.” Likewise, The San Jose Mercury News has San Jose State accepting an MWC offer as earlier as this week.
That makes three apparent departures from the Western Athletic Conference’s already depleted ranks in one weekend, with UT-San Antonio headed to Conference USA in 2013. The WAC needed a special exemption to host just seven teams in 2012, one fewer than the NCAA’s minimum for designation. Now all that remain are Texas State, Idaho, Louisiana Tech and New Mexico State. La. Tech is
Former WAC commissioner Karl Benson scrambled for new members after losing four affiliates in a few months’ time in 2010.
1996: The WAC expands to 16 members. Part of the conference’s realignment is loss of an automatic bid to the NCAA men’s basketball tournament.
1999: Eight members, mostly original participants, break away from the WAC to form the Mountain West.
June 11, 2010: Crown jewel of WAC football Boise State leaves the conference for the MWC five months after completing a 13-0, BCS bowl-winning season.
Aug. 19, 2010: WAC football stalwart Fresno State, fresh off a 12-1, top 10 season Nevada and the only other WAC team to reach a BCS bowl, Hawai’i, accept invitations to the MWC.
Sept. 2010: Cal Poly and UC Davis accept bids to the Big Sky Conference, thus remaining members of the Football Championship Subdivision. UCD head coach Bob Biggs confirms to me that the Aggies were a WAC target, but were more interested in joining the Big Sky.
Early Nov. 2010: Montana’s athletic department publicly turns down an invitation to the WAC. Cited among the reasons is maintaining its century-plus long rivalry with Montana State. I spoke to UM athletic director Jim O’Day, who told me the Big Sky and FCS offered a better immediate situation for the Grizzlies.
Nov. 12, 2010: The WAC lands three new members in UTSA, Texas State and Denver. The latter two bring the conference’s football total to seven for the 2012 season.
Late Nov. 2010: Currently C-USA bound North Texas passes on a WAC invitation.
June 10, 2011: Houston Baptist President Robert B. Sloan declares that his university wants to and is ready to add football to its athletic department. Given the conference’s expanse into Texas, HBU becomes an instant speculated member for the WAC. However, launching football would take a minimum of two years from the 2012-’13 athletic season, doing the WAC no good for 2013.
June 13, 2011: The WAC denies
Division II Utah Valley’s bid for membership. UVU does not host football. On the same day, non-football playing Seattle is accepted into the fold.
July 14, 2011: Another non-football member is added in Texas-Arlington. UTA immediately announces after its invitation that it has no plans to add football in the foreseeable future.
Sept. 15, 2011: Two more non-football programs are extended invitations in Dallas Baptist and Cal State Bakersfield.
Feb. 15, 2012: Commissioner Benson leaves the WAC for the same position at the Sun Belt.
Actually seeing the WAC’s demise in print is staggering. The conference was once a beacon for great, if not underappreciated football. It hosted a national champion in the 1984 BYU Cougars and one of the original BCS busters in Boise State. Something about the conference ceasing to exist seems wrong, but alas that is where the weekend’s developments leave use.
Four schools is not a proper building for securing new members, particularly not with what remains. New Mexico State has suffered historic struggles competitively. Texas State has yet to play an FBS game. Louisiana Tech is rumored to be on the C-USA’s short list. Idaho plays in a venue not best suited to FBS. If an established FCS program like Montana was unwilling to move in 2010, adding the Grizzlies in 2012 is an impossible pipe dream.
The Sun Belt seems a fitting landing spot for Texas State, with the SBC apparently losing its sole Lone Star State member to C-USA. NMSU was an SBC member last decade. That leaves Idaho the sole team out. As of yet, the MWC has not shown interest in adding the Vandals. Their Moscow, Idaho home is much too far off the beaten path for the SBC. The MAC needs a 14th member since losing Temple to the Big East last month, but UI is 1800 miles west of the conference’s current most western program, Northern Illinois.
Further, UI plays its home games in the Kibbie Dome, a venue that seats just 16,000. The Vandals play in one of the smallest facilities in the FBS, thus consistently rank at the bottom for attendance nationally.
A move to the Big Sky and return to FCS would seem the most apropos for UI. The Vandals were Big Sky members until the mid-1990s, reaching the NCAA Playoffs five years over a six-year span from 1990 to 1995. Conversely, UI has reached just two bowl games in its entire FBS tenure. The reduction in scholarships would require an adjustment period, and the loss of a conference television contract’s revenue might be a difficult sell. Ultimately though, the Big Sky might be the answer Idaho needs.