The Sun Belt and WAC Should Talk
By Paul Myerberg // Sep 26, 2011
The Mountain West and Conference USA are still discussing a possible merger, though the two league may join forces without a few bold-faced names: Boise State could still go the Big 12, though the chance doesn’t seem great, and East Carolina has already applied for membership in the Big East. Houston is an option for the Big 12, as is Air Force; U.C.F. is an option for the Big East. There’s plenty that remains up in the air, both in terms of the financials of the deal and just what parties each conference will bring to the table. Not that we’re waiting with baited breath, what with the B.C.S conference chatter ringing in our ears, but the potential merger should lay out the particulars for a similar deal between another pair of non-B.C.S. conference leagues.
Dan Wolken — who’s great, by the way — reported earlier this evening that San Jose State had reached out to the Sun Belt regarding a potential conference switch. The Sun Belt? As in the region located, oh, a country away from San Jose? Yes, that Sun Belt: and don’t scoff, because it makes sense.
Not the whole S.J.S.U.-to-the-Sun Belt thing; not exactly, at least. In its current form, including the Spartans in the S.B.C. is akin to adding Syracuse to the Pac-12 — it doesn’t work like that. And that’s one reason why the Sun Belt might rebuff San Jose State’s reported interest.
That’s if San Jose State goes alone. It simply doesn’t make sense for the Sun Belt to add a 10th team all the way out in California. Maybe U.S.C., yes. Not the Spartans, who don’t bring all that much to the table.
What about the entire WAC, on the other hand? Such a merger would follow in the footsteps of the Mountain West and Conference USA; that deal would provide the WAC and the Sun Belt with a blueprint. And the more high-profile merger, if it works, would indicate that it’s possible to combine two leagues on opposite ends of the country.
You wouldn’t think it could work geographically. And no, it doesn’t. The two leagues, the Sun Belt and the WAC, have nothing in common minus one thing: both are on the same level. A quick reminder of the WAC’s layout in 2012, after Hawaii, Fresno State and Nevada join the Mountain West:
New Mexico State
San Jose State
Not a good league. Worse than the Sun Belt, in fact. But not so much worse that the Sun Belt’s prestige would suffer a hit — we’re not talking about the SEC here, of course. The Sun Belt joining that league is similar to the Mountain West merging with Conference USA; the Mountain West is a better conference, but no so much so as to outweigh the positives of the merger.
Not that a WAC-Sun Belt marriage wouldn’t have issues to overcome. Neither conference contains programs with enormous athletic budgets. The costs involved with traveling across the country every fall — and basketball season as well — might be too exorbitant.
The WAC would also need to divulge its own future expansion plans. Has the league identified an eighth or ninth member? If so, the WAC would need the Sun Belt to sign off on any addition. I don’t imagine that this would be a sticking point.
More than anything, it’s the financial end that presents the biggest hurdle. I think it’s clear that the Mountain West and Conference USA is not just a marriage based on survival but also with a financial backbone. The move is made in an effort to impress the B.C.S., after all.
A Sun Belt-WAC union would be made wholly for survival — on the WAC’s end, at least. The Sun Belt could continue to putter around as the lowest rung on the F.B.S. ladder in perpetuity, if it chose. The WAC needs to add teams to ensure its future; it the WAC can’t add teams, why not add an entire league?
It’s a marriage of convenience for the WAC. For the Sun Belt, adding the WAC gives it a larger footprint, a wider fan base and the potential to break into major markets in California and Texas. That’s enough to entice the Sun Belt, in my mind.
And if a merger does occur, it won’t make the slightest of ripples in the F.B.S. pond. It’ll rate somewhere between Alabama’s injury report and Oregon State giving an assistant coach a pay raise. That’s life.
It remains an important alliance for the two conferences to consider. The WAC needs to ensure its survival; that teams like San Jose State are thinking about abandoning ship says all you need to know about the WAC’s future. The Sun Belt can solidify its national hold by adding teams in Texas and California.
The name would have to change, of course. Perhaps the Sunshine Belt? There’s sun in California and Texas, after all.
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Tags: Conference USA, Mountain West, San Jose State, Sun Belt, WAC
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