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The Countdown

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

P.S.R. Op-Ed

See You Again, WAC, But Only in Reruns

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.

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  1. Robert says:

    Maybe they could join the Big East. After all, the BE is taking anybody with a pulse (e.g, Memphis)

  2. jjncaa says:

    actually, the Vandals are planning to expand the Kibbie Dome: http://idaho.scout.com/2/1182373.html

  3. eli says:

    Texas-San Antonio is UTSA.

    Paul: Unless it’s read as “Utz-ah,” like UTEP is said “You-tep,” it’s U.T.S.A. We’re going to have to learn to live with it.

  4. Hokieshibe says:

    @Robert – does Memphis football have a pulse?

  5. eli says:

    Paul – I hear you and in fact some (few) of the locals do say “Oootsa” but as per the University’s Identity guidelines “UTSA” is preferred similar to UCLA.

  6. Steve says:

    This is a heart breaker. I was hoping to see the WAC settle in as the western equal to the Sun Belt no lose teams to the Sun Belt. New Mexico State and Idaho are two teams I follow a good bit. Don’t know why I just do. I’ve watched a lot of bad football over the years and it appears they may be put out of their misery.

  7. [...] Western Athletic Conference will be down to two members, Idaho and New Mexico State, which means it won’t be a conference at all.  This isn’t a development that’s snuck up on us. … The league never recovered [...]

  8. GonzoAggie says:

    >>> 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.

    Like nearly all schools, NMSU runs an athletic dept deficit.
    NMSU did increase its budget, but lacking fan support, I’m not sure how much more was available.

    NMSU has a better stadium than a number I’ve been to, what was a decade ago one of the largest weight rooms, and did invest in ‘Aggie Vision’ which produces the video kids want.

    You yourself have written that Walker was a good hire and last year’s OC, Doug Martin, was hired away precisely because he was a good hire.

    Winning usually solves everything, but there too, the Aggies showed some signs of life last year.

    Things are not rosy, but the Aggies do remain in the footprint of MWC and on the edge of CUSA and SB.

    They will find a home.

  9. Steve says:

    And why can’t NMSU get support? It’s your state school for crying out loud.

  10. Tim says:

    Good write up. As a long time BYU fan, I have many good memories of the early WAC days.

    As for Idaho and NMST, back to the FCS would be a good fit. BYU fans have never been so disinterested in football since going Independent and having the likes of Idaho and NMST on the schedule two years in a row. We’re dying to get a BIG 12 invite.

  11. When I first moved to Tempe ASU was in the WAC. The final scores of their games used to amazed me. They would score 40 or 50 points a game ….. and allow nearly as many.

    The weekly shootouts were great. We lived close to the stadium and the fireworks would go off after each Sun Devil score.

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