"The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated," Mark Twain said after hearing that his obituary had been published in the New York Journal.
And so the same might be said of the Western Athletic Conference after reports of its impending demise has been discussed everywhere from the Boise to ESPN to Afganhistan and beyond. After more than 50 years of existence and one of the oldest sports conferences in the nation, its obituary has been mentioned on nearly all the news programs or appeared on every newspaper’s sports pages in the country.
The WAC administrators themselves (minus former commissioner Karl Benson) will not speculate relative to those stories, but remind us to hold back on shoveling in the dirt just yet. They have every confidence that the WAC will maintain its existence as a pre-eminent Division I conference.
Here is a look at how a new Western Athletic Conference could survive,The most logical result for WAC survival will be ceasing to sponsor football. That move would allow them keep maintaining all their other sports. A reconfigured basketball conference only needs seven members to be an "automatic qualifying" conference, with “AQ” meaning the tournament champion will get an automatic bid to the NCAA basketball tournament. The WAC is expected to have just 5 teams for 2013 (Denver, Seattle, Boise State, New Mexico State, and Idaho) meaning they only need two more teams to remain a viable NCAA-recognized conference. Here is now the new WAC conference could look in 2013:
New Mexico State*
California State University-Bakersfield
New Jersey Institute of Technology
University of California-San Diego
*Football programs for these two schools could either be closed down or transferred to another conference for football-only. Even if both Idaho and New Mexico State were to bolt for another conference, enough basketball-only schools are available to keep the WAC from disappearing.
Four of those schools are the remaining members of the Division I Great West Conference, which is a conference even in more trouble than the WAC. The GW does not have an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament or it could become the home of the WAC leftovers. By next year the GW league could be down to four members: Utah Valley, Chicago State, New Jersey Institute of Technology, and Texas-Pan American, and they are all looking around for a new home. The WAC could give them that.
CSU Bakersfield is another Division I school looking for a league. They recently teamed with the University of California, San Diego who is planning a move to Division I in all sports except football, and attempted to join the Big West Conference. Both were refused membership. The two southern California schools could join the WAC simultaneously.
So how stable could a new Western Athletic Conference be? Who knows as in any given year nearly every conference is at risk in this new era of expansion. Idaho and New Mexico State would love to take their programs and move to another conference where they can be a full member. Boise State has been quiet as a mouse, but they also know their options are limited. Denver seems committed and have had little to say, officially. But Seattle went on record yesterday as being fully committed to their move to the Western Athletic Conference.
But no matter how it plays out in the days and weeks to come, just remember what Mark Twain once said.