See You Again, WAC, But Only in Reruns
By Paul Myerberg // May 1, 2012
And then there were two. Before even playing a single game as a member of the conference — let alone a member of the F.B.S. — Texas State will leave the WAC for the Sun Belt in 2013, meaning that five of the seven teams currently in the WAC have found new conference affiliation effective after this coming season: Louisiana Tech and Texas-San Antonio are headed to Conference USA, Utah State and San Jose State to the Mountain West and the Bobcats to the Sun Belt. That leaves Idaho and New Mexico State facing an uncertain future, though these two programs have one thing over the WAC: Come 2013, each will still exist, albeit in a different fashion. As a football league, the WAC is dead.
Once upon a time, the WAC was bustling. In 1977, the league contained Arizona, Arizona State, B.Y.U., Colorado State, Utah and Wyoming. The conference continued to thrive even after the two Arizona schools left to join the Pac-10 in 1978. In 1984, the Cougars won the national title. In 1990, the WAC housed the Heisman winner.
The league never recovered from the formation of the Mountain West in 1999, which robbed the WAC of its heart and soul in Utah and B.Y.U., among others. The WAC tried to balance out those losses by adding Louisiana Tech, Nevada and Boise State, but with hindsight, it’s clear that the WAC was slapping a Band-Aid on a fatal wound.
The WAC has been on its last legs since 2000; all conference expansion has done is speed up the process, placing the WAC in hospice care as its teams scattered to the Mountain West, Sun Belt and Conference USA. All that’s left for the conference is the final decision: Does it even try to salvage what’s left — the scraps — or does it throw in the towel as football league?
The only real option is the latter. This is made clear by the departure of Texas State and Texas-San Antonio, two new F.B.S. programs that many derided as only-in-the-WAC additions a year ago. When the WAC can’t hold onto two nobodies, it really has no hope of survival as an F.B.S. league.
You can’t help but feel for Idaho and New Mexico State. Begin with Idaho, which, if I had to wager a prediction today, will be forced to step back down to the F.C.S. as a result of the WAC’s demise. The Kibbie Dome, the Vandals’ home field, is by a large margin the smallest stadium in the F.B.S — 6,000 seats smaller than Bowling Green’s stadium.
Idaho’s stadium is also only the sixth-largest in the 13-team Big Sky Conference, where the Vandals played from 1963-95. This looks like Idaho’s landing spot in 2013, unless the program can exist as an F.B.S. Independent while searching for a new conference affiliation.
What Texas State’s move to the Sun Belt does is potentially rob a spot from both the Vandals and New Mexico State; both were members of that league from 2001-4 before joining the WAC. As of now, the Sun Belt will add Texas State and Georgia State in 2013 to fill the spots vacated by Florida International and North Texas, which will join Conference USA.
Whether the Sun Belt would look to add more teams to its list — and remember that South Alabama will be a full member in 2013 — is one thing. Whether the conference would view the Vandals and Aggies as viable alternatives is another. Keep in mind the fact that Georgia Southern, Appalachian State and Charlotte are eyeing a move up to the F.B.S. in the near future. If the Sun Belt could get one or two of those programs, wouldn’t the conference add teams that fit its geographic profile rather than branch out west?
Both program’s only hope is that the Sun Belt does decide to expand further, perhaps to the point where it creates a 16-team league with divisions in the East and West. At this point, however, the league doesn’t have enough western options at its disposal to create the split this setup demands: Idaho and N.M.S.U. make two, but even if you count this pair as realistic picks, the Sun Belt’s options run dry from there.
You commiserate with two out-of-luck programs, but don’t pretend that each couldn’t have avoided being in such a tight spot. New Mexico State could have invested more in its football program, could have developed better facilities, could have made better hires, could have won more games. If the Aggies had taken football more seriously, perhaps they, not the rival Lobos, would have been in the Mountain West.
Nothing prevented Idaho from being Boise State — all that separates one from the other is commitment, or a lack thereof. Idaho built a 16,000-seat stadium that has more in common with an airplane hangar than a football facility. You can make the case today that Idaho should have never joined the F.B.S. at all, let alone remain a part of this level if the WAC disbands as a football league in 2013.
Perhaps if the WAC hadn’t rejected former commissioner Karl Benson’s request for a conference extension it could have staved off this exodus. Benson, quickly hired as the Sun Belt’s commissioner in February, went from helping the WAC weather the loss of Boise State, Nevada and others to looting the league’s remaining members over the last 90 days.
“I feel rejuvenated now. I’m part of a conference that has potential instead of one where most of the members are looking elsewhere,” Benson said in early April. Over the span of 30 days, five of the seven members of the WAC went from window shopping — looking elsewhere — to jumping ship.
Idaho and New Mexico State, two of the weakest programs in college football, are all that’s left. Good luck to both, but don’t go holding out for any miracles. And goodnight, WAC. The league will be seen again, but only in reruns.
Tags: B.Y.U., Conference Expansion, Conference USA, Georgia State, Idaho, Karl Benson, Louisiana Tech, Mountain West, New Mexico State, San Jose State, South Alabama, Texas State, Texas-San Antonio, Utah, Utah State, WAC
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