The past two days have been significant for the Western Athletic Conference, and there is definitely a Mountain West connection to this news.
This article by Dan McCarney of the San Antonio Express-News has some good details and quotes from WAC Commissioner Karl Benson.
More info and analysis below the fold.
On Thursday, the NCAA re-wrote legislation on automatic tournament berths for conferences, eliminating the rule about continuous membership. Now, the focus is solely on minimum membership expectations: seven teams for men's and women's basketball, six for other sports, and eight to be recognized as an FBS conference.
On Friday, Benson led a WAC meeting, and then shared some info with reporters afterward. From McCarney's article:
“There are schools that have indicated they are ready to accept invitations,” Benson said after meeting with the athletic directors of the WAC's new eight-team lineup, including UTSA's Lynn Hickey and Texas State's Larry Teis, for about four hours.
Benson said additions could be announced as early as April 1.
While declining to name any football schools, Benson did say Seattle University, California State-Bakersfield and Utah Valley will be assessed as non-football members.
“We started the process today of evaluating a pool of potential candidates,” he said. “That's all I can tell you. I don't think staying at eight (members) is one of our preferred options. Our preference is to get to 10, maybe even 12.”
Benson is covering his bases in anticipation of the Mountain West's meeting on Jan. 24th. On that date, the Mountain West may make the decision to either stay at 10 teams or expand to 12. One of this blog's own great contributors, TowerPower, has suggested that MWC expansion would involve adding Utah State from the WAC and UTEP from C-USA. C-USA would then nab Louisiana Tech from the WAC. If the MWC were to invite a non-football member to balance with Hawaii, it might be Denver, Gonzaga, or a re-union with BYU (remaining independent in football).
Clearly, Benson needs to be prepared for the possibility of losing 2-3 more schools from the WAC prior to that January 24th meeting, and it appears that's what he's doing.
What's remarkable about that article is that no less than 12(!) potential schools are mentioned for WAC expansion in the article:
Extreme long shots:
I can't rationalize why those four institutions would leave their current situation to join the WAC.
The non-football schools:
I could see all three of these schools joining the WAC. It appears Benson is strategically trying to become less far flung geographically, even if it means taking severe hits in terms of branding/name recognition with the schools he's inviting. I mean, the Big West rejected Bakersfield, and the WAC wants them. Think about that.
Football schools specifically mentioned in the article:
Lamar, TX (starting up a football program)
Sam Houston State (has already conducted a feasibility study and stated it won't go up to FBS).
Lamar just started its football program back up after a 20-year hiatus. Sam Houston has already conducted a feasibility study and stated it won't go up to FBS. Davis and Poly appeared to gain some newfound security when they joined the Big Sky as football-only members recently.
As if 12 candidates weren't enough, Benson hinted that there were other schools he chose not to mention with reporters. My own speculation here: If SJSU, Cal Poly, UC Davis, and/or Bakersfield/Portland State were all aligned, Sac State might join them. And if Lamar were to join, that might nudge Sam Houston State and Stephen F. Austin in the same direction. These smaller schools would be hesitant to join a far-flung WAC, but "there's safety in numbers": Benson is seemingly trying to create a core group in California, and a core group in Texas. Those schools, if there were able to be in divisions together, might have the best of both worlds: the low-budget travel, and the slightly enhanced exposure of playing in FBS.
The other intriguing thing here is the three non-football schools. Coupled with Denver, the WAC might have four non-football schools, which gives them the luxury of offering football-only membership to a few of the schools that might be on the fence. They could be 14-team conference with 10 football schools, or a 12-team conference with eight football schools.
What do you guys think is the most logical, reasonable scenario from there? I am curious. I realize this is only tangentially related to the Mountain West, but this is an excellent blog with some great participants and I wanted to bounce it off of some good thinkers.
Imagine, if you would please, that the WAC is left with only 5-6 schools at the end of this month: SJSU, Idaho, New Mexico State, UTSA, Texas State, and Denver(?). Which 5-7 schools from the list above do you think they are most likely to add? If they jump to 12, how would the divisions look?