Let’s face it: the Western Athletic Conference, as it’s currently constituted, is dead. It has ceased to exist as a conference, both technically and in the realm of any reasonable thought.
The six teams left standing are a veritable Who’s Not collection of fringe mid-major football schools — at best — with little cachet left following the departures of Boise State, Fresno State and Nevada for the Mountain West, presumably after the 2010-2011 school year.
Idaho, Louisiana Tech, New Mexico State, Hawaii, San Jose State and Utah State? There’s little doubt that these schools are fine, fine institutions of higher learning, but, when it comes to football, the Sun Belt now scoffs in their general direction. And chuckles, with a giggle thrown in for good measure.
So, just where does the conference go from here? Commissioner Karl Benson is expected to hold a press conference at some point Thursday, at which time it’s expected he’ll address the future of his league and any type of salvaging plan they’ve cobbled together in the past 24 hours.
Aside from the obvious of just outright abandoning the conference and allowing the remaining schools to fend for themselves — especially if BYU decides to remain in the Mountain West and not take their non-football sports to the WAC — the WAC will have to look at plucking schools that are currently members of other leagues. The most obvious candidate for plundering would be Conference USA in general and their Western division specifically.
Houston would be the obvious prize out of that group, with SMU and their cash-flush rebuilding efforts not far behind. The former would seem an unlikely candidate for departure right now, if for nothing more than there’s a possibility that either the Mountain West (most likely) or the Big 12 (kinda, maybe) could have their eyes on the Cougars in the not-too-distant future; the latter school would appear to be a good candidate, although they may not want to abandon their natural in-state conference rivals.
Beggars can’t be choosers — and right now the WAC is a panhandling fool — so they could be forced to focus their attention on two of the following four schools to get to the NCAA-mandated level of eight schools: Rice, Tulane, Tulsa and UTEP. Would either of those four schools leave the relative stability of C-USA for the uncertainty that is the WAC? Not to mention the additional travel expenditures that would come along with it?
If C-USA is out of the question, the attention may turn to the Sun Belt. With Louisiana Tech already in the WAC fold, perhaps Louisiana-Lafayette and/or Louisiana-Monroe would be an option. With the exception of getting to the minimum of eight schools to technically form a conference, do those to Louisiana programs add anything — besides travel expenses — of value to the conference?
Of course, there’s always the option of cannon-balling into the Div. 1-AA pool and see what comes ashore, which brings us full circle back to the original premise: the WAC is on life support and, barring what seems right now would be a more-than-minor miracle, will have the plug pulled.
Thus, if the WAC ceases to exist, what happens to the individual schools? There are two seemingly no-brainers when it comes to the dissolving of the WAC and what happens to the current members.
One, Hawaii would be odds-on favorites to go the independent route. It’s been discussed in the past and, if they suddenly found themselves conference-less, would be the likely path for the foreseeable future. The other no-brainer would be Louisiana Tech to either Conference USA or the Sun Belt. The former already has 12 schools, so the numbers would have to be worked around, while the latter would likely welcome LaTech with open arms and a couple/few cases of beers.
As suggested to me by one of the fine editors at NBC Sports.com/MSNBC.com, two of the remaining four schools could potentially drop down to Div. 1-AA. Idaho and Utah State, at least geographically, would be a perfect fit for the Big Sky conference. Dropping down a level would not be optimum, but they could be left with no other choice.
That leaves San Jose State and New Mexico State. Godspeed, higher-learning institutions. Godspeed.
Of course, if the reports come to fruition and BYU does indeed strike out as a football independent and drops their non-football sports into the WAC, the conference may suddenly become attractive again and they could very well, with the BYU draw, pull in an additional two schools, thus staving off extinction.
So, BYU, the ball’s in your court. You have the power to save or kill an entire conference. No pressure at all.