Conference realignment
New Mexico State is currently in negotiations to join Conference USA according to multiple reports. Courtesy NMSU Athletics.

From Stabilization to Possibly Being Torn Apart, WAC Faces Realignment Challenges

Conference realignment talks are heating up once again. Less than five months after stabilizing the WAC with five new additions, the WAC might face more realignment challenges. On Thursday, reports came from The Athletic that Conference USA was in negotiation talks with New Mexico State. The Aggies, along with Liberty and UCONN are reportedly in talks to join Conference USA. UCONN would join for football only according to the report.

Amidst all the talk, there is speculation that Sam Houston and Stephen F. Austin may leave the WAC and join Conference USA at some point. Other speculation is that if New Mexico State leaves the WAC, GCU might look elsewhere.

Imagine being in Jeff Hurd’s shoes as he is retiring in December. The WAC commissioner has done so much to keep the WAC alive. Three years ago, the WAC was hanging by a thread after losing CSU Bakersfield to the Big West and Kansas City to the Summit League. Hurd brought in Tarleton State and Dixie State and football was coming back to the WAC. On January 14, 2021, Hurd and the WAC announced the addition of five other schools. Stephen F. Austin, Sam Houston, Lamar, Abilene Christian, and Southern Utah agreed to join the WAC. Southern Utah will join beginning in July, 2022. Along with these additions, Chicago State will be leaving the WAC at the end of the 2022 fiscal year in July.

Football is back in the WAC. Basketball will be more competitive and created a jump in the KenPom rankings from last season. All other sports are positively impacted by the additions.

And now?

Report: New Mexico State in Talks with Conference USA

Yes, the WAC may be facing an uphill battle once again. New Mexico State has been king of the mountain for quite some time. However, the Aggies haven’t had a football conference to call home during that time either. In fact, since 2013, the Aggie football team has had one winning season. New Mexico State finished the 2017 season 7-6 with a 26-20 win in the Arizona Bowl over Utah State. Outside of that season, the Aggies haven’t won more than three games in a season since 2013.

Is it beneficial for New Mexico State to move to Conference USA in all sports? Well, that may depend on a few things. Right now, according to reports, only Middle Tennessee, Louisiana Tech, UTEP, FIU and Western Kentucky are still left in Conference USA. UCONN would be a football-only addition so it doesn’t help basketball-wise. And with all of Liberty’s issues, it will be interesting to see if Conference USA gives into the backlash it will receive for adding the Flames.

Yes, Conference USA would be a step up in basketball terms. It would provide a home for the Aggie football team who has been an independent since 2018. The Aggies were basically kicked out of the Sun Belt Conference after a 4-year stint.

Is it beneficial from a financial standpoint? Perhaps. Travel wouldn’t be too significantly different for the Aggies than it has been. New Mexico State already travels to Chicago and Seattle so traveling to Tennessee or Virginia wouldn’t be much different. If you on Twitter, you know the Aggie faithful is all for the move. This is especially true if the Aggies are in the same conference with rival UTEP.

We will update this as more information becomes available.

Other WAC Schools on the Move

Yes, the rumors are out there that Sam Houston and Stephen F. Austin may be on the move. And while anything is possible, this probably won’t be the case at the moment. First off, Sam Houston students just shot down a referendum to increase student fees in order to add some financial backing for athletics. Sam Houston’s Bowers Stadium has a capacity of 14,000 but is only averaging around 8,300 fans right now, well below the FBS minimum of 15,000.

So, there would be work to do in order to meet that requirement. And think about this…Sam Houston is the defending FCS national champion, sits currently as the No. 1 team in the nation and is still no filling its stadium. So, that might be a big gamble for an already good football team who isn’t meeting FBS standards as we speak.

Like it has been said, anything is possible. Is it possible SFA would make the jump? Perhaps. But, similar to Sam Houston, SFA is only averaging a little over 8,900 fans for its home games at Homer Bryce Stadium. And while, the website says it can hold upward of 25,000 fans with the grass hills around the stadium, it may take some time to fill it to capacity. The largest crowd to watch a game at Homer Bryce Stadium was in 1995 against top-ranked McNeese State.

These are just a few of the hurdles these FCS schools would face. But, nothing is out of the realm of possibility with regard to conference realignment.

But, never say never.

For now, while the realignment talks continue, the WAC is in a good place. Yes, as more realignment news comes to light, that could change in a matter of hours or minutes. Despite all the realignment news, fans of the Western Athletic Conference should enjoy the 2021-22 season in all sports. What Jeff Hurd and his team at the WAC have done to keep the WAC alive is truly remarkable. Now, as realignment continues to reign supreme among college athletics, they may have their hands full once again.

About the author

Kyle McDonald

Love everything about WAC Hoops so decided I wanted to write more about it and cover this amazing conference that just keeps getting better. Follow us on Twitter @wachoopsdigest for information, game analysis and much more.

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