A Proposal to End the WAC/Divorcees Dilemma

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The whole Nevada/Fresno deal has been intermittently on my mind since things went nuts this summer, and a few thoughts have compiled in my head to what I think is a reasonable way for everybody to address this situation.  This is mostly empirical, and let me first state my assumptions and potential biases.  (Since I'm in engineering, you'll get a lot of bullet-point stuff here.)

  • I'm a MWC guy.  I grew up in Wyoming and graduated from UW.  I like the MWC since it holds most of what was then the WAC as I was learning about football.  I still with the Utah schools were in, but that's irrelevant to the discussion.  The point is that I tend to favor things that favor the MWC, and that's fair to admit up front.
  • I believe in fast resolutions.  Now that we know for certain that Fresno and Nevada are leaving, I believe that it's in everybody's interest to make it happen sooner rather than later.  When such decisions are final and irrevocable, just finish the split and move on.  Delaying is just festering a wound.
  • I think the WAC is better served by an earlier exit.  I'll address this throughout the article.

Ok, that basically sums up the things you'll see.  The rest are details.  Tasty, tasty details.

First, let's ask a question: what does each side stand to gain or lose?  For Nevada and Fresno, it's easy; joining the MWC sooner means they don't play a second lame duck year against schools that feel betrayed.  The new MWC will be a prestige bump for everybody (after the Utah/BYU departures are accounted for), and both schools should rightly want to be a part of that quickly.  The potential loss is simply financial: what will it cost?  That will be an important question in a bit.

For the WAC, this is a question of conference viability in the short term, financial stability, and making the necessary changes in the long term.  By keeping the two schools around another year, they stay above the team minima for the various sports for one more year, thereby avoiding the need for exemption status.  Nevada and Fresno are also two of the better money draws for the league relative to the others.  Lastly, this buys the WAC one more year of time to figure out their new invites into the conference - time that may turn out to be extraordinarily valuable.

So a satisfactory solution has to provide benefit to both sides.  Let's first admit that there is no way that either side will get everything.  The schools won't end up leaving without some financial penalty, and the WAC won't get money and the added year.  Both sides have to give in order to take.  So we need to find the saddle point.

Let's address the concept of school retention vs. school release.  If the schools stay in the WAC through 2011, then every conference game in every sport (but let's just focus on football and, to a part, basketball) will be lame duck.  Both sides will know that the games are merely formalities and that they're already effectively done with each other.  They do help fill schedules nicely, but that's as far as the good goes; each braodcast, each recap, each ESPN highlight will be filled with reminders that these schools are going separate ways.  That's not healthy at all for the WAC, who will spend a solid year with media talking about what they're losing instead of what they're eventually gaining.  It's a rhetorical viewpoint, but it'll be important for the WAC to make the best of it.

But the WAC in particular has reason to free up these games.  Without Nevada and Fresno for conference opponents, there will be a lot of space available on the WAC schedules for short-term negotiations with other schools.  As it turns out, both the PAC-12 and (to a lesser extent) the Big 12 will need to reconfigure their schedules in 2011.  This gives the WAC a good opportunity to schedule games against BCS teams:  cash games, in particular.

This is the perfect time for the WAC to load up on cash games.  With the conference in transition, it won't be too big of a deal for the WAC schools to have lots of roadies to the Oregons, USCs, Arizonas, and Oklahomas of the college world.  They can be written off as temporary fill-ins until the new teams enter the league.  In the meantime, they'll provide a fair amount of money for the schools (and, honestly, more money than they'd get from possible bowl bids).  Each school could add one or two cash games and line the pockets with the money they'll need in transition or, if they're lucky, to work on facility upgrades, coaching salary increases, marketing, etc.  The schools will need that money, and since the WAC is ultimately in existence to serve the schools, the WAC ought to see that helping the schools find these cash streams is beneficial to the league as a whole.  Besides, even if this results in a lot of losses, it's better to lose to big-name teams than to Nevada and Fresno, as those losses will only further cement in peoples' minds that the WAC is the Sun Belt of the West.  (While it may not be fair to assume that losing to Nevada/Fresno is worse, you know that's the general assumption until undeniably proved otherwise.)

Make no mistake, Nevada and Fresno would be two of the top teams in the 2011 WAC.  They're not only two of the best teams in the league today, but their futures are brighter, which will translate into better recruiting and better player interest throughout the offseason.  You have to expect these schools to end up as two of the top four (most likely top three) in the conference if they're still WAC members in 2011.  That is not helpful when the league loses them in 2012.  Right now, everybody's focused on the loss of Boise St.; why not take the opportunity to avoid a potential conference p.r. problem and just get rid of the other two while people aren't looking?

Early departures means more money for the WAC.  This is obvious, based on the buyout.  Look, Nevada is already pretty well off the hook on the $5 million fee, leaving only Fresno's to worry about.  There's not a whole lot of money that will come into the conference once these schools leave, so the WAC might as well try to maximize the value.  Let Nevada and Fresno go, but drive up the asking price as high as the WAC can get it first.  Just make sure that an agreement is reached, and the WAC will have more money at hand.  This is more valuable than potentially getting Boise'd by these schools in 2011.

Neither side needs to have lawyers involved in the long term.  Lawyers are frightfully expensive.  Even if both sides have salaried lawyers on hand such that the excess cost appears negligible, it will only add expense.  The legal teams will have to use money for travel, research, argumentation, etc. that they wouldn't otherwise be using, and it ties up lawyers who would otherwise be handling the normal legal business of both sides.  It's not like these lawyer are just sitting around playing checkers; committing legal eagles to this situation means that they'll have to hire other lawyers for their other legal affairs.  It's not a free lunch.

The NCAA will give the WAC their exemption.  We know about the rules on the minimum number of schools that a conference has to have in order to be recognized, but why do these rules exist?  The answer is largely one of administration.  Let's take the ridiculous case of a two-team conference.  Would that conference have bowl tie-ins?  In basketball, how many guaranteed NCAA bids would they get?  Would their conference champion (best two out of three, perhaps) be invited to the tournament while 12-team conference slog through a full season plus playoffs?  Enforcing minima ensures that the conferences all have relatively equal sway (loosely defined here).

But the WAC isn't trying anything sneaky on this one.  They're acting in good faith and simply have a transition that they couldn't avoid.  There's no reason for the NCAA to not give them a few years to get new teams into the fold.  Besides, if the WAC fills in for those aforementioned cash games and helps out the new PAC-12 and Big 12, then those two conferences would surely vouch for the WAC and help support them for exemption status.    There's just not a good argument to deny the exemption (and the exemption policy exists for this very reason - to support conferences that are acting in their best accordance with the NCAA intent).

So, in short:

  • Let the WAC and Nevada/Fresno negotiate a buyout.
  • Let the WAC fill in games for the other remodeled conferences.
  • Avoid the lame duck season that will only serve to embarrass both sides.
  • Get the NCAA exemption for the WAC.
  • End the discussion as quickly as possible.

Sound reasonable enough?

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