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The Countdown

A bottom-to-top assessment of the F.B.S. landscape heading into the 2012 season.

Need to Know

Four More Jump Ship From the WAC

The WAC has seven teams: Idaho, Louisiana Tech, New Mexico State, San Jose State, Texas-San Antonio, Texas State and Utah State. Now, see if you can keep up. Despite being less than a year removed from its birth and four months away from its first game on the F.B.S. level, Texas-San Antonio will join Conference USA in 2013. San Jose State and Utah State are days away from being officially accepted as the newest members of the Mountain West. Louisiana Tech is also expected to land an invite into Conference USA. By mid-May, the WAC will be cut down from seven teams to three, though the four teams already scheduled to leave the conference won’t do so until the 2013 season.

As discussed earlier this month, U.T.S.A. has tremendous upside; that’s why Conference USA is interested, of course, as the Roadrunners would have been at least two or three years away from competing for six wins in the WAC, let alone a bowl berth out of the far deeper and more talented Conference USA.

But in adding the Roadrunners, the conference can begin to replace the Texas-based foothold it lost when Houston and S.M.U. accepted bids to the Big East. While U.T.S.A. has nothing on those two programs today, the Roadrunners have ample room to grow – and for Conference USA, the Roadrunners’ potential and placement made them an appealing addition.

Something seemed fishy late in March, when a representative from the N.C.A.A. told me that of the four schools transitioning into the F.B.S. this fall, only U.T.S.A. had failed to complete and submit the necessary paperwork in advance of the June 1 deadline. Now, the delay makes sense: Since the paperwork would detail the Roadrunners’ new conference affiliation, the program was waiting to see how its conversations with Conference USA played out before committing to the WAC.

While he’s no longer with the university, credit former San Jose State athletic director Tom Bowen for getting the athletic department in place for a move into the Mountain West – a significant upgrade, obviously. While with San Jose State, Bowen increased both the university’s fundraising efforts and overall spending budget for the athletic department.

The increased cash flow led to increased spending, which in turn presented S.J.S.U. as a far more viable alternative than it would have been, say, a decade ago. In terms of a football product, the Spartans are slowly but surely growing more competitive under Mike MacIntyre; the Spartans won five games last fall, up from one in MacIntyre’s debut season in 2010.

Utah State has always made sense as an addition to the Mountain West, especially with the league’s past and future losses: Utah to the Pac-12, T.C.U. to the Big 12 and Boise State and San Diego State to the Big East. And like San Jose State, the Aggies have seemingly turned the corner as a football program: Gary Andersen led Utah State into bowl play last fall, snapping a 14-year absence from the postseason.

Louisiana Tech has never made sense as a member of the WAC – Western Athletic Conference, with emphasis on Western. The Bulldogs have always belonged in a more geographically relevant league; where the program entered some difficulty is in actually gaining entrance into a league closer to its location in SEC country.

It would have been easy for the university to enlist in the Sun Belt, but that option was never on the table. For Louisiana Tech – even with the program’s off-and-on struggles since 2001 – the Sun Belt would represent a significant step back in terms of prestige. While the WAC has fallen behind the Sun Belt since the latest round of expansion, the Bulldogs never entertained the possibility of leaving the WAC for a similarly weak conference.

Joining Conference USA was always the best alternative for both parties. The only issue for Louisiana Tech was gaining an invite: only over the last six months, when the league lost four teams to the Big East – U.C.F., Houston, S.M.U. and Memphis – did Conference USA have a spot for Louisiana Tech.

Given the sorry state of the WAC, all four teams are making a major upgrade. If nothing else, the new conference affiliation places each program into a more stable situation. Even if the Mountain West and Conference USA need to explore more change in order to ensure greater stability in the near future, you can say with certainty that neither conference is really going anywhere — they might change names, merge, what have you, but neither is disappearing altogether. The WAC, on the other hand, is not long for this world.

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  1. Andrew says:

    Poor Poor little Idaho….

    Big Sky Champions 2013?

  2. Josh H. says:

    Hell, the MAC may take Idaho or whoever is left to make us have even divisions lol

  3. Bobak says:

    The leftovers should return to the Sun Belt (in Idaho and New Mexico State’s case) and design a second grand conference merger: the MAC-Belt.

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