Realignment talks continue to heat up. Conference USA is at the forefront of the discussions after losing nine schools. And now two more are being reported as potentially leaving for the MAC. What Western Kentucky and Middle Tennessee do will make this saga even more definitive.
Now, the question remains: is the WAC in trouble? And the answer is simple: NO!
If WKU and MTSU decide to stay in Conference USA, there is the likelihood New Mexico State gets an invite. And even more likelihood the Aggies leave the WAC. It’s really a no-brainer. New Mexico State football competes at an FBS level and doesn’t want to drop to the FCS level. Plus, they would get to be in the same conference as I-10 rival UTEP. Why wouldn’t Mario Moccia and the Aggie administration make the jump if an invite comes?
But, for all the doubters, if New Mexico State leaves, it doesn’t necessarily hurt the WAC. The league would be at an even 12 teams. Easier on scheduling and travel partners. Chicago State is set to leave the WAC at the end of June and Southern Utah takes its place beginning in July. So even then, you are still at 12 institutions. You still have six schools in Texas and the western six schools who, outside of Seattle, are all within easy driving distance of one another. And while yes, the basketball side of things may take a hit, that hit is less significant with an SUU squad who currently has a KenPom ranking of 122.
Are the rumors swirling about who is leaving the WAC? Absolutely. Matt Brown with Extra Points says that a third of the schools in the WAC are actively considering leaving the league. Question is, what schools? Tarleton is still in the transition phase and Conference USA most likely doesn’t want to hassle with that. Sam Houston doesn’t have the financial resources or the facilities to move to the FBS level at this time.
Is it possible that either Tarleton or Sam Houston are thinking of leaving? Yes. Is it likely they can/will at this time? Probably not. One source has told us that the report stating Sam Houston wanting to join Conference USA is adamantly false.
Again, let’s be clear. With regard to conference alignment, anything can happen at any moment. Yes, WAC commissioner Jeff Hurd is stepping down in December. But, that doesn’t mean the WAC is in peril like some would have you believe. Presidents are interviewing final candidates on Monday so the search for Hurd’s predecessor is actually ahead of schedule.
And even when Hurd steps down, he will still be engaged with the conference as it moves forward.
Those who are advocating that the WAC is somehow in trouble are missing these few points. Why would schools jump ship so fast without giving a stabilized conference the opportunity to prove itself? Why would the FCS national champions and current No. 1 team in the nation want to leave for a conference that is reeling and can give no guarantees to stabilization? Perhaps some of the schools in the WAC want to move to the FBS level. And perhaps the WAC will get there at some point. But, that’s not what the new additions signed up for. They wanted to be part of a conference where schools invested in their athletic departments. They wanted something stable. And in the WAC these schools have that.
Think about it another way: the WAC was holding on by a thread in 2017-18. Kansas City left. CSU Bakersfield left. Everyone wondered if the WAC would fold. Then Jeff Hurd went out and got Dixie State and Tarleton State to join the WAC from the D-II ranks. Following those additions, Hurd pulled off another coup by bringing in the Texas 4.
If any of those schools were really aiming to jump to the FBS ranks anytime soon, why would they join a conference knowing that it would still be at the FCS level? If those Texas 4 schools wanted to go to the FBS level, they could have petitioned Conference USA, the Sun Belt Conference or other conferences. But they chose to come to the WAC and continue to compete at the FCS level. Simply put, as of right now, the WAC is not even close being in the same situation Conference USA faces. Realignment talks reign supreme with all kinds of speculation.
The reports of the WAC meeting with McNeese State and Incarnate Word are true. In realignment talks, you must be proactive. And, this is where planning comes in. Jeff Hurd and the WAC Board of Directors are planning ahead to prepare themselves for any potential movement within the WAC and the college athletics landscape.
Will CBU, Seattle, or GCU Get Invite to the WCC?
This question is a little more difficult to answer. Seattle and CBU make sense for the WCC simply because of their location to other schools in the conference. However, Gonzaga already controls the Seattle market even though it is in Spokane. And there are enough California schools in the conference that the market CBU is in may not make a huge difference. In terms of realignment, CBU is still a year away from being out of its transition phase. So that will play a part.
Here is where GCU comes in. And yes, there will be a lot of people who disagree with this. I get it. But, hate aside, what conference would not love to have the Phoenix market and the revenue that could come from having that market as part of its realignment? Also, the GCU brand is growing steam across the nation, whether you like it or not. According to one source, if the WCC expands after losing BYU to the Big 12, GCU makes a ton of sense in terms of market location. In terms of basketball and other sports, it is the same thing.
Conference realignment talks are the norm. And they are a revolving door. Or what some might consider a fluid situation. Money plays a huge part in all of this. Just ask the MAC as that is the key contributing factor with regard to adding WKU and MTSU. It’s a big reason why New Mexico State prefers to stay at the FBS level. And why, in the future, current WAC schools may want to make the jump to the FBS level.
For now, though, the WAC is stabilized and contingencies are being put together on a regular basis to deal with the changing landscape. It’s why the WAC has survived multiple conference realignments.