The WAC dropped its conference schedule on Wednesday afternoon. What a way to end the month of August.
There were some murmurings about games on certain days, perhaps even travel issues. It’s always fun to see the different things fans see when the schedule comes out. One thing that cannot be disputed is that WAC play begins Dec. 29 for both the men and women.
And that opening night is going to be must-see television.
Opening Night Features Head-to-Head Matchups of Top Teams
Listen, we haven’t put out our preseason rankings yet. And for good measure. These season previews we are doing give us a better feel for each squad. So, those preseason rankings will come out the week before the 2022-23 season starts.
With that being said, there is no denying who are arguably the best teams in the WAC heading into the 2022-23 season. New Mexico State is still king. Grand Canyon is deep and talented. California Baptist reloaded and has the WAC Freshman of the Year. Utah Valley, Stephen F. Austin, Abilene Christian, Sam Houston, Southern Utah, and Seattle are all in that discussion, too. Which makes opening night of WAC play so AWESOME!
We get Southern Utah at New Mexico State. California Baptist heads to Phoenix to face Grand Canyon. Sam Houston travels to Orem to face Utah Valley. Abilene Christian goes to Nacogdoches to face Stephen F. Austin.
We will have four teams that could win the WAC start off WAC play with a loss. How crazy is that? Brian Thornton and Drew Speraw knocked this opening night of WAC play out of the park.
Just a disclaimer – this is not a shot at UTRGV at Utah Tech or UT Arlington at Tarleton. Those will be some really good games. And perhaps UT Arlington at Tarleton will be the start of a new rivalry.
Love the Doubleheaders
If I am being honest, doubleheaders should have happened the entire season for all schools. Having the men and women travel together to a location to play on the same day is great for everyone. At least, in my opinion. For athletic departments, it is probably the same way. And it might be the best for the fans. Or at least when you are trying to grow your fan base and exposing them to other teams at the institution.
Utah Valley hosts the first doubleheader of the season. The UVU women host Grand Canyon and the UVU men follow that up by hosting Sam Houston. Fans of the women’s game don’t have to leave which will add more fans for the mens game. It is a win-win for everyone.
And every team in the WAC will host multiple doubleheaders throughout the season. According to Drew Speraw, it allowed for more flexibility in putting together the schedules. The one thing I would change is that it is the same institutions in both games. So, in the case of UVU, it would be either the GCU men and women or the Sam Houston men and women at UVU. Makes it easier for fan bases to travel together and so forth. Perhaps that is something the WAC will look at after this season.
Put the Rivalry Games on the Schedule When Students are On Campus
This is something that should be looked at in a future conference schedule. Let’s look SFA. They host Abilene Christian on opening night of WAC play. The Wildcats knocked SFA out of the WAC tournament in March. And both teams have had a lot of success over the past few years, which gives this game even more steam. But, it is on Dec. 29. This means students will still be on break, which means Johnson Coliseum won’t be as rocking as it should be. It is the same when New Mexico State comes to Nacogdoches on Jan. 4.
Utah Tech at Utah Valley on Dec. 31 will be similar. This is a game that probably should have been scheduled for two weeks later. This is an in-state rivalry game that would draw one of the largest crowds to the UCCU Center all season. But, 40,000 students won’t be on campus on Dec. 29 so it may not be the atmosphere it could be.
These are just things that are food for thought. Rivalry games are big time and making sure the students are on campus for them is something the WAC should consider for the 2023-24 season.
Interesting Travel Scenarios
I do not envy Southern Utah in its opening week of WAC play. The T-Birds have to go to Las Cruces to open at New Mexico State. And then SUU has to figure out a way to fly back on Dec. 30 to get ready to host UTRGV On Dec. 31. The Vaqueros play at Utah Tech to open WAC play and only have to drive 40 minutes north to Cedar City.
Sam Houston is similar. The Bearkats travel to Orem to take on Utah Valley and then have to fly to El Paso to catch a bus to Las Cruces to play New Mexico State two days later.
In the second week of WAC play, New Mexico State goes to Nacogdoches but then returns home to host California Baptist on Saturday.
The norm was you play two road games each weekend. So this is an interesting twist to the 2022-23 conference schedule.
Love the Season Ends on a Friday
Last year, the regular season championship came down to a 7 p.m. MT game in Las Cruces. New Mexico State beat Utah Valley to create a 3-way share of the WAC regular season crown. There were a lot of questions about seeding scenarios especially because WAC Vegas was four days away.
But, the WAC made the decision in 2022-23 to have the regular season end on Friday March 3. I like it. I like it a lot. Kyle Keller mentioned how he regretted not taking his guys home after they beat UTRGV to end the regular season. Keller made the decision to go from Edinburg straight to Las Vegas. And he feels that was a big thing that cost his guys. Part of it was the short time between the regular season finale and the WAC tournament. Now, an extra day gives the Keller, among others, a chance to go home and regroup before heading to Las Vegas.
Although, considering this year, the Jacks won’t have been on the road for a week before heading to Las Vegas, it may not matter.
Either way, I love that the regular season ends on Friday and we will have WAC seeding earlier this year. Those seeding scenarios were difficult to predict in 2021-22.
Overall, there are schedule challenges for every school, some perhaps more than others. But, it is going to be a fun season. And one where I don’t believe the regular season champ will have less than three losses.