Jeff Hurd on WAC numbers: “your analysis is correct,” but “never say never” to waivers
I just had a brief e-mail exchange with Jeff Hurd, interim commissioner of the WAC. Since the WAC’s offices are here in metro Denver, I was trying to set up an in-person interview, but — not surprisingly — Hurd is quite busy for the next few days, so that will have to wait. I then asked him one critical question by e-mail, which he graciously answered. Here was my question:
I’m operating on the belief that Grand Canyon, or any other transitioning lower-division school, will not and cannot “count” as one of the WAC’s required number of teams until the 2017-2018 academic year. That’s based on the reported 4-year transition period from D-II to D-I, and the presumption that the 4-year period would begin on July 1, 2013 for a school that provisionally joins then (such as GCU). Thus, absent an NCAA waiver or rule change, no lower-division school can help the WAC’s numbers until 2017-2018. So, you have 4 full academic years coming up where you’ve got to rely exclusively on current Division I schools to get you the required conference membership numbers (or else petition the NCAA for some sort of relief).
Is that right? Or is there a possibility, under the current rules, of a D-II school completing the transition “early,” i.e., in 2016-2017 or even 2015-2016.
And here’s his answer:
Although I never say never to anything (re: future waivers, etc.), your analysis is correct. Grand Canyon was added based primarily upon location, growth potential and commitment from the administration to maintain a fully-funded Division I program down the road. It was required to have an invitation from a Division I conference in order to get its clock started on the reclassification process.
So, this is confirmation of what I’ve been saying. Assuming it can hold onto its existing quintet of current Division I members — CSU Bakersfield, New Mexico State (who may not be leaving for C-USA after all, at least not yet, but may bolt for the Sun Belt instead), Seattle, Utah Valley, and newly invited UT-Pan American — plus Idaho for 2013-14 only, the WAC needs:
- 1 more current Division I member for 2014-15.
- 2 more current Division I members for 2015-16 and 2016-17.
Seemingly, Chicago State and New Jersey Institute of Technology — the entire remaining membership of the crumbling Great West Conference — are the only options on the table, since it’s virtually inconceivable that a team would leave a stable Division I conference with 8+ teams and an NCAA auto bid for the unstable and numerically challenged WAC. I suppose maybe it could happen if a group of 3 or 4 teams, perhaps disgruntled with the leadership of their current conference or some such thing, all left together and joined the WAC (which they would then immediately have the votes to dominate), since they could thereby create the stability that is otherwise lacking. But there have been no rumblings of anything like that, and I just cannot see the WAC being able to pick off an individual team here or there from current D-I conferences, other than the Great West. So, barring some weird mass-exodus scenario that nobody’s anticipating, and barring an NCAA waiver or rule change, it’s Chicago State and NJIT … or bust. (And NJIT reportedly ain’t happening, with its focus being more on America East or the NEC. Of course, this being conference realignment, everything “ain’t happening”… until suddenly, it’s happening. So who knows.)
Moreover, again, the notion of Chicago State and NJIT saving the WAC assumes New Mexico State and the others stay aboard. If anyone else defects — NMSU or anyone — then it’s NCAA waiver or bust, even if Chicago State and NJIT do join.
P.S. I suppose the WAC could “kick the can down the road” a year by inviting an additional current Division I member — probably Chicago State — to join in 2013-14 (rather than 2014-15), thus giving them a seven-team league (instead of six) for 2013-14, meaning they wouldn’t need to begin using the two-year “six teams” waiver until 2014-15, when Idaho leaves. So, in practical words, they could exist without NJIT for 2014-15 and 2015-16, and wouldn’t need NJIT until 2016-17. And, who knows, maybe the NCAA would be more willing to grant a waiver to let Grand Canyon join early if it was only a one-year waiver, in which case the WAC wouldn’t need NJIT at all.
Of course, again, that hypothetical scenario assumes New Mexico State stays. Although, similar logic would apply if New Mexico State, like Idaho, stays through 2013-14, then leaves in 2014-15 — and the WAC then invites NJIT for 2014-15 and 2015-16, and applies for a waiver to get Grand Canyon to “count” in 2016-17.