ABOVE: Exclusive footage of the scene last night at WAC headquarters in Greenwood Village, in the wake of this weekend’s news that Utah State and San Jose State are probably leaving the WAC for the Mountain West, Texas-San Antonio and Louisiana Tech are probably leaving for Conference USA, and Texas State may be Sun Belt-bound.
“All hands, abandon WAC! Repeat, all hands, abandon…” [conference explodes]
If you prefer your nerdy conference realignment humor in Lord of the Rings form, I can do that, too:
ELROND: Gandalf, the enemy is moving. Conference USA’s forces are massing in the East; its eye is fixed on San Antonio and Ruston. And the Blue Aggies, you tell me, have betrayed us. Our list of allies grows thin!
GANDALF: The treachery runs deeper than you know. By foul craft, Karl Benson is breeding an army in the caverns of the Sun Belt. An army that can move in sunlight, and devour his former conference at speed. Benson is coming for Texas State.
ELROND: This evil cannot be concealed by the power of the WAC! We do not have the strength to withstand the Mountain West, Conference USA and the Sun Belt! Gandalf…the football schools cannot stay here.
In all seriousness, it appears the WAC is well and truly dead as a football conference. The only question is what happens to Idaho and New Mexico State. Either or both may well need to drop down from FBS to FCS, in which case they will probably join an FCS conference and will be done with the WAC in all sports.
If so, that would leave the once-proud WAC with just four schools, none of whom are actually members as of today: Denver, Seattle, UT-Arlington, and Boise State (in everything but football). I hate to say “I told you so,” but, well, cue my blog post from November 17, 2010, just before Hawaii announced its defection, titled “Is Denver too excited about joining the WAC?”
“The Western Athletic Conference is an iconic athletics conference associated with the West,” said DU Chancellor Robert Coombe. “We are absolutely thrilled — absolutely thrilled — to become a member of the Western Athletic Conference.”
“This is a day of celebration,” said DU’s athletic director, Peg Bradley‐Doppes. “There were some happy tears with our alums coming in. This is a day that we all envisioned. We didn’t know when it would happen, but we had the dream. The dream is now a reality.” She said joining the WAC was the culmination of a five-year “strategic plan specifically for today, for this purpose, to get into a new conference.”
The event — which you can watch here — left no doubt that Denver was overjoyed to earn a spot in the WAC, leaving behind the geographically awkward Sun Belt in favor of a more regionally appropriate, higher-profile conference. But the question must be asked: is DU’s joy out of proportion to the actual benefit of its move, at least in basketball terms? …
[After discussing the relative weakness of the then-planned WAC in basketball terms, I added…] There’s also the matter of football revenue, and even more important, potential instability in the current conference-swapping climate. Denver doesn’t play football…but DU will have to pay very close attention to football-related expansion machinations as they continue to play out over the next several years, because the WAC remains exceedingly vulnerable if things start moving again. …
[Nevertheess,] Denver wasn’t going to stay put and let the opportunity offered by the WAC — undeniably an improvement over the Sun Belt — pass it by. So they made the jump, and understandably so. Now they just have to cross their fingers that the center holds…
The center has not held, as became clear the day after I published that post, when Hawaii bolted. And now, things have gotten so bad that it’s no longer clear the WAC was, after all, “undeniably an improvement over the Sun Belt.” Here’s what Yahoo’s Dr. Saturday wrote a few minutes ago:
If the league starts to crumble, those perspective teams could back out. UT-Arlington could probably go back to the Southland Conference. Denver also might be able to return to the Sun Belt as a non-football member. Denver left the Sun Belt on good terms and has a great relationship with Benson.
That’s certainly a possibility. But are there other options? First things first: could the quartet of Denver, Seattle, UT-Arlington and Boise State possibly be the base for a viable basketball/Olympic league? Without Utah State, there is no marquee team left in that conference, nor any natural basketball rival for the up-and-coming Pios, as the Blue Aggies would have been. Bummer. But can such a horrifically watered-down WAC nevertheless survive? There has been talk of adding Utah Valley and Cal State-Bakersfield, which would bring the league up to the NCAA minimum of 6 members. Maybe another team or two, like potential Great West castaway UT-Pan American, could be added to bring the total up to 7 or 8. That’s be a terribly crappy league, but hey, Denver would at least have a really good shot at winning some NCAA Tournament autobids!
Other possibilities include Denver and Seattle finally getting long-coveted WCC invites — that would be, as it has always been, the ideal scenario for the Pioneers — or DU being among a group of WAC castaways seeking refuge in the Summit League. Or the Pios could knock on the Big Sky’s door, setting up an in-state conference rivalry with Northern Colorado — if that league is interested in non-football-playing members. But I’ve heard they aren’t.
Ultimately, if the WCC continues to say no, and assuming the Big Sky is also out, Denver will need to decide among three bad options: (1) staying in the WAC and trying to build a viable league (a path that depends on Boise State, in particular, also staying put; but then, the Broncos may not have very many other options for their non-football sports either); (2) joining the Summit League; or (3) returning, hat in hand, to the Sun Belt.
I have no idea what will happen. But we may get a better idea soon. From Doc Saturday:
The WAC — or what’s left of it — is holding meetings this week in Scottsdale, Ariz., and the main topic will be the preservation of the conference.
I hope they’ve got good alcohol at the meeting site, because those people are going to need some stiff drinks.