Can the WAC Survive Beyond 2013?

Out west here we are all asking ourselves if the Western Athletic Conference will survive beyond 2013? The short answer is yes, maybe. Not all of that answer will hinge on what Boise State does or does not do regarding their move to the Big East Conference. In fact, while Boise State’s leap of faith head long into the Big East with their football program might seem reckless, it just might have been the one move that could actually end up saving the WAC to live another day.

Right now with San Jose State and Utah State bailing out for the Mountain West Conference in 2013, the league will be left with just five members: Boise State, New Mexico State, Idaho, Seattle and Denver---two short of what is needed to comply with NCAA regulations.

That is because the new NCAA rules that were passed last year establishes conference membership based on the qualifications of a league’s members instead of the continuity requirements that are currently in place. Those new rules ensure that conferences like the Western Athletic Conference retain their automatic bids to NCAA tournaments in all sports when they go through a transition period on membership changes. These new rules basically stipulate that a conference must have seven active Division I members that sponsor men’s and women’s basketball and that the conference sponsor a minimum of six men’s sports and six women’s sports. So that is a biggie to help the WAC get back to relevancy.

The pieces are already there to get the job done rebuilding the Western Athletic Conference. All of the teams in the Great West are looking for new pastures, and several others in the west are looking to move up in the ranks. One good example is the University of California, San Diego (not to be confused with SDSU). The school has 23,636 students, competes in 23 intercollegiate sports, and has won 24 championships in sports including soccer, volleyball, golf, tennis, water polo, and softball. Yet, the SD Tritons, like Cal State Bakersfield, were turned down for membership by the Big West. And there are others out there. Portland State and Sacramento State are two others who have expressed interest in the WAC while leaving their football teams in the Big Sky. And you can add Northern Colorado to that mix.

Here is what a 10-team WAC model could potentially look like:

Boise State

Denver

Seattle

Idaho (football could be placed in either in the Sunbelt or independent status)

New Mexico State (same situation as Idaho)

Texas-Pan American (from Great West)

Utah Valley (from Great West)

Cal State Bakersfield

UC San Diego (moving from Div. II)

Fresno State or Air Force (football in Big East because BYU will not be joining)

Is it pretty? No, and I never said it would be. But it is not just God-awful, either. Sure, a lot of "ifs" have to be taken into account: if Boise State stays; if both New Mexico State and Idaho remain on board; if the Big East expands with another western team needing a home for their other sports. But it is easy to envision a scenario where the WAC could become the repository for a handful of Big East football-only teams in a western divison and augmenting the membership with teams such as Idaho and New Mexico either playing independently or in the Sunbelt or Big Sky for football. But even without Boise State or the other potential Big East members the Western Athletic Conference can survive longterm. Using the model above it is easy to imagine how the conference could stabilize itself with seven or eight teams.

The question is will the WAC leadership make a preemptive move before the Big West Conference grabs Boise State? Probably not, but who knows what is going on behind the doors of the WAC's home offices without Karl Benson as commissioner? Just don't be surprised if Boise State takes the lead in rebuilding the conference at some point if an agreement can't be worked out with the Big West.
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