Following Mountain West Conference commissioner Craig Thompson's advice to New Mexico State and Idaho in a press conference (David Southorn, Idaho Press-Tribune) to "move on to Plan B" instead of hoping for a MWC invitation, rumors are flying today that the WAC has plans for realignment in the works.
Today seems the ideal time to finally publish my list of western (and a few non-western) schools who should be receptive to a sales pitch from the WAC.
The WAC "Realignment Mirage"
Over the last month, WAC fans have concluded that the only direction the WAC could take is to become a non-football I-AAA conference.
It has been widely assumed that the only Division I schools who would accept a WAC invitation are Cal State Bakersfield, UT Pan American, Utah Valley University, and—if the WAC gets really desperate—Chicago State.
Division II candidates have largely been ignored.
The idea that no schools were interested in joining a conference with the assets of the WAC seemed to be an illusion.
After New Mexico State and Idaho publicly showed their desire to leave the conference, other schools interest in staying with WAC seemed to wane.
A conference with the assets of the WAC—the ability to invite schools up to the FBS level, an NCAA tournament automatic bid, member schools with good academic reputations (assuming Boise State leaves) and some history with ESPN—should be appealing.
A small WAC membership gives the WAC the room to reach for a school
It's understood by fans that the WAC has to look at I-AAA and FCS candidates.
In order to rebuild, the WAC will have to admit lower-level candidates, giving the conference a lot of freedom. At this point, unlike all of the other FBS conferences, the WAC could add a prestigious school from the Division II ranks without much of a PR hit.
Why admit a non-football Division I school with a poor academic reputation when you can add a prestigious Division II member?
The type of conference dictates the type of candidates targeted
With only four current members in this football/basketball hybrid conference, there are a lot of directions the WAC could go.
For example, it has been suggested on several forums that the WAC could sponsor both FBS and FCS football. The NCAA rules do not appear to spell out any restrictions that would prevent that.
If the WAC took that direction, one could see several Big Sky schools who aren't ready to make the FBS jump and would move to the WAC in protest. It would also open the door to a lot of promising football playing schools at the Division II level.
It's important to note that any direction the WAC takes as a conference would have a different candidate list.
At first, I was going to make a list of 25 schools that would listen to a WAC sales pitch, but I ended up with almost double that number.
To make the list interesting and fun for WAC fans who prefer a Western membership, I drew a demarcation line from Alabama to Kentucky and tried to find promising candidates from there westward.
This excluded most of the FBS candidate schools in the East.
To make the list more relevant, I left off Western schools in stable conferences who appear to have already passed on the WAC.
The WAC will die if they stake their future on waiting for Montana, Montana State, Portland State, Sacramento State, UC Davis and Cal Poly to find the institutional courage to play with the big boys.
To narrow the focus even more, I left off all members of the Missouri Valley Conference who play FCS football.
The MVC has long-time rivalries and strong basketball support, generating revenue that a lot of other conferences do not have. Also, their proximity to member schools helps their stability.
Those three factors will likely allow the MWC to weather a meltdown at the FCS level longer than most FCS conferences. Especially since there doesn't appear to be much that would imply a serious interest in playing FBS football at any of those schools.
Even without those schools, this is a very long list.
Realignment fanatics may want to read every word, but most normal sports fans would not.
For fans with a more casual interest in realignment, I'd suggest just reading the first profile to get a good feel for the factors being considered, and then, just flipping through the list to candidate profiles that interest you.
Prepare to say, "I hadn't thought of them...in the right WAC plan, they could work."
Let's start in the shallow end of our pool of candidates—California—with CSU Bakersfield and work our way in a general eastward direction.