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45+ Mostly Western Darkhorse Schools That Could Help Save the WAC

Tobi WritesAnalyst IJanuary 9, 2017

45+ Mostly Western Darkhorse Schools That Could Help Save the WAC

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    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.

     

    The 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.

1) California State University, Bakersfield

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    CSUB was ready to join the WAC as a I-AAA member yesterday.

    CSUB moved up from the Division II California Collegiate Athletic Association in 2006 and has been sitting out there for years waiting for the Big West to invite them.

    For those of you unfamiliar with these obscure conferences, the I-AAA Big West is evenly comprised of schools from the very prestigious University of California System and from the the much-less prestigious California State University System. Divison II CCAA is comprised of 11 CSU schools and one UC school.

    In prestige terms, CSUB is basically a middle-of-the-pack CSU school.

    CSUB's inability to get a Big West invite has to send a clear message to CSU schools in the CCAA. There's no home waiting for them in the Division I level should any of those schools decide to upgrade their athletic program to help promote their school brand.

    This suggests an opportunity for the WAC.

    There's an argument to be made that it's time to get in bed with the Cal State system schools. There's also an argument that Fresno State, San Diego State, Sacramento State and San Jose State all recently snubbed the WAC. It may be time to write off the Cal State system—if not California itself.

    CSUB would love to be the start of an affiliation between the WAC and the next group of schools in the Cal State system.

    CSUB can draw respectable basketball crowds to their arena and have a good basketball tradition at the D-II level.

    Additionally, they play men's soccer.  If the WAC cannot secure enough football teams, they need replacement men's sports. Men's soccer is one of the easier sports for the WAC to hit the minimum number of teams.

    And starting up FBS football, while a huge longshot, is a possibility.

    Starting up football at public schools seems very unlikely in California's economy. That said, CSUB has not had any luck attracting a conference and there is a WAC-sized (20,000-seat) stadium—Memorial Stadium—with exceptional bones in the city. 

    It is a 20-mile drive across the city from campus. 

    In a bigger city that would be a huge issue, but in a city the size of Bakersfield, an FBS team would be pulling from the whole city population anyway, so where they could play in the city is not as big of an issue as it would be in other cities.

    Memorial Stadium is located on the campus of Bakersfield College—a local JUCO. 

    The seating is well-placed, and all seats are aluminum benches with backs or bucket seats. Those are certainly better conditions than a lot of FBS schools have endured over the last two decades.

    The stadium would need to be fitted with some cheaper luxury boxes to be an acceptable short-term home, but the bones are definitely there.

     

    Hurdles and hindrances

    There's no good reason to travel to a small Californian city to play a I-AAA member without a travel partner in a huge California market.

    There does seem to be some regular competition for public sports dollars in Bakersfield in basketball—CSUB's only revenue sport—so there is a question of what value, if any, CSUB offers the WAC.

    Additionally, adding football at a California public school is a hard sell today. The state has legal hurdles that prevent their government from collecting the required taxes to properly fund their schools. 

    The recession has brought that point home with force.

    It's hard to see a California public school adding football while cutting teachers.

    Academics are a problem too.

    Most of the California State schools—due to the mission of that system—are classified as "regional universities" in the U.S. News University rankings. That is less prestigious than the "national university" designation under which almost all FBS playing schools are classified.

    "National universities" offer a wide breadth of master and doctoral degrees, and as such, are generally considered a more prestigious class.

    A school can be highly ranked in a region under that "lesser" designation and can be seen as more of a peer to the national universities—Cal Poly is a good example of this—but most of the CSU schools are not highly ranked regional universities.

    CSUB is no exception.

    CSUB is ranked 88th in the Western "regional universities" category. That's lower than Boise State. It seems likely that will make it tough to earn the votes to get in.

    CSUB is not a school that's going to make the WAC more attractive to any current Division I schools in California or anywhere else.

    They don't bring a sizeable DMA.

    All adding them alone in California as a full member would do is stretch out the WAC travel footprint, increasing costs and discouraging Central and Eastern candidates.

     

    Quality of candidate (out of five stars)

    One star with football. No stars to half-a-star without football

    It makes some sense for the WAC to consider the idea of becoming a I-AAA home for CSUB and at least one of the CSU's larger DII schools as long as that other school is located in a top designated market area.

    The WAC could trade the Cal State system some invitations in exchange for a policy of aggressive upgrading by larger D-II Cal State schools in the near future.

    The cost extracted for the WAC saving CSUB should be a second large CSU school from the CCAA joining them as I-AAA members and CSUB's travel partner in the WAC. 

    The payoff for the CSU systems could be a rubber stamp invitation for any approved CSU school with an enrollment over 17,000 (besides Sacramento State) to join the WAC as an I-AAA member at any point.

    Playing as a Division I-AAA (a.k.a. non-football member in Division I) is a much cheaper path to Division I and is very manageable by any public school with an enrollment over 15,000.

    If the CSU schools pass on that, a sensible alternative option would be to offer CSUB alone full membership—if they commit a notable amount of money now towards playing FBS football.

    Shy of that, it seems the most sensible move would be to only offer CSUB a carrot encouraging a stronger athletic commitment—an associate membership in men's basketball and any other sport the WAC may need for their total sports counts.

    Given the travel, there is no sensible reason whatsoever to offer CSUB a full membership with no other California State schools joining them in the WAC. 

2) San Franciso State

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    Why?

    Huge enrollment

    No exposure in athletics currently

    Manageable upgrade costs

    Little competition

     

    SFSU has an enrollment of 30,125 (the largest in the CCAA), and yet, most people outside of California have never heard of it or confuse it with the West Coast Conference's much smaller private university—the University of San Fancisco. 

    This is a school that screams for a need to use athletics to get the word out about their university.

    A move to the I-AAA level would be relatively cheap (an important consideration in California), and there's little reason to believe the move would not pay for itself within a few years.

    There is no NBA basketball in San Francisco. You have to take a bridge to Oakland to see the Warriors play, and they're usually not a playoff team. Cal and Stanford are a pretty good drive for SF city dwellars. 

    SFU's enrollment leveraged properly could, and should, allow the Gators' support to exceed the support the WCC's San Francisco gets in the region.

    There's a good market potentially available to buy SFSU tickets.

    San Francisco is a very underrated recruiting territory for basketball talent.

    They have a large alumni base living in a top-10 DMA.

    They play men's soccer.

    Down the road, SFSU actually makes a ton of sense as an FBS member, and a move to the WAC makes that possible. With the 49ers leaving for SJSU Spartan territory, there's a very good argument for SFSU to play FBS football in a few years ...if they can play in their games at AT&T Park.

    AT&T Park (home of the SF Giants and the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl) would be an elite game-day home for an FBS SFSU in the WAC, if the Giants would allow it, and there's every reason to beleive they might. The Park would really only need to be used by SFSU four to six days a year. That might be acceptable to the Giants.

     

    Hurdles and hindrances

    San Francisco State would need to budget a little money on the front end into selling tickets to alumni, but that shouldn't be a deal killer.

    Their arena would need to be expanded and probably replaced down the road for this move to make business sense. SFSU Gynmasium only seats 2000. That should not be a deal killer either.

    This is a school that should be a big player today. Does the leadership at SFSU see it?

    On the negative side, SFSU's academics also do not match up well vs. many of the other candidates. They are designated as a middle-of-the-pack Western regional university (No. 48). They are higher ranked than Boise State though.

     

    Quality of candidate (out of five stars)

    Two stars with a football; one star without

    Explorers used to plant flags to claim territories for a country. SFSU as a I-AAA school could be the WAC's California flag.

    It would be worth it to fly to San Franciso to play SFSU if that was the WAC's only California presence.

    In my opinion, 10 years after joining the WAC this school could be everything the WAC hoped San Jose State would be.

3) Cal State Los Angeles

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    Why?

    Cal State Los Angeles has an enrollment just over 20,000 and is located in the Los Angeles DMA—the No. 2 in the Nation. Los Angeles is also one of the premiere recruiting areas in the country.

    Eagle's Nest Arena seats 5,000, an appropriate number for the WAC today and a suitable amount to serve as the home of the WAC Conference tourney in the nation's second-largest DMA.

    Cal State L.A. plays men's soccer.

    If they should decide to play FBS football, Weingart Stadium on the campus of East Los Angeles College (a local JUCO) seats a WAC appropriate 20,000 and is three miles away.

     

    Hurdles and hindrances

    Is there an interest?

    Would the money ever be there for them to play football? That may be very unlikely, especially right now.

    They are designated as an unranked regional university in the Western region. That could make them a tough sell to the WAC membership. How much is the Los Angeles DMA worth to the WAC?

     

    Quality of candidate (out of 5 stars)

    1.5 stars with football; one star without

    Pretty much the same pros and cons as SFSU. Cal State Los Angeles would be a very solid addition even if they never considered playing football.  Do not underestimate the media value of having a school with "L.A." in it's name.

4) Cal Poly Pomona

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    Why?

    The other Cal Poly school, Cal Poly Pomona, is in the Los Angeles DMA but is on the edge of the Inland Empire—a fair distance from UCLA and USC.

    They play men's soccer.

    Historically, they are the most successful athletic program in the CCAA.

    They have an enrollment of over 20,000. Their basketball arena sits 4,765—an acceptable amount for WAC play and even maybe for the conference tourney.

    The proposed 75,000-seat Los Angeles Stadium would be 10-15 minutes away. That projects to a similar outcome in terms of football fan support to what Temple has seen if Cal Poly Pomona decided to play FBS football.

    Kellogg Gymnasium seats 4,765 for basketball.

     

    Hurdles and hindrances

    Again, is there any interest in Division I or FBS ball?

    They are designated as a mid to high-ranked regional university (No. 33) in the Western region. The academics again are not bad but are not what some of the other candidates offer, and there would be little name brand value outside of California.

     

    Quality of candidate (out of five stars)

    1.5 stars with football; one star without

    The commitment to athletics at Cal Poly Pomona would not just vanish if they move up.

    On the field, there's little doubt they would be, at minimum, competent members and probably much better than that.

5) Cal State San Bernardino

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    Why?

    They would be the second Division I school in the Inland Empire—an area with over four million residents.

    UC Riverside seems much better situated to own the Inland Empire. I think the question of whether they would ever sign off on CSUSB ever joining the Big West is an interesting one.

    With over 17,000 students, CSUSB has the required enrollment to afford a move to I-AAA.

    Coussoulis Arena seats just over 4,000, so it's a little small by WAC standards. 

    They play men's soccer.

     

    Hurdles and hindrances

    Is the interest there?

    They are designated as a regional university (No. 60) in the Western region. That's fairly close to Boise State's ranking. 

    CSUSB offers no name value outside of the state of California.

     

    Quality of candidate (out of five stars)

    One star

    Cal State San Bernadino looks like a good I-AAA prospect. They're in the L.A. DMA, but as only the second D-I school in the Inland Empire, they have the potential to evolve into a strong basketball school. 

6) Chico State

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    Why?

    They have an enrollment of over 17,000 and are very competitive on the field.

    They play men's soccer.

    Their arena, Acker Gymnasium, is small for WAC tastes at 1997.

     

    Hurdles and hindrances

    Is there an interest?

    Travel could be difficult.

    Chico State offers a smaller DMA and sounds rinky-dink and poor—not associations the WAC should want fans making in their minds.

    Academically, Chico State is actually fairly highly ranked. They are ranked No. 33 in the regional universities.

     

    Quality of candidate (out of five stars)

    One star with football; one-half star without

7) Cal State Dominguez Hills

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    Why?

    At a little over 12,000, their enrollment screams FCS/Division II, but they do have a very sweet stadium situation that rivals Portland State's good fortune.

    Cal State Dominguez Hills' leadership was smart enough to sign off on allowing the Home Depot Center to be built on their campus.

    The Home Depot Center seats 27,000 in style. It's absolutely a perfect stadium for an FBS startup, and it's located on campus in the middle of greater L.A.

    Having the stadium and the location would make upgrading a lot cheaper for Cal State Dominguez Hills than just about any other school.

    They play men's soccer.

    The Torodome is small for WAC tastes, as it only seats 3,602, but this addition would be all about football.

     

    Hurdles and hindrances

    Is there an interest?

    Can they scrape together enough money to play football?

    The University's name would be the most rinky-dink name in all of FBS sports. The WAC really doesn't need that today.

    Their academic profile is less impressive than most of the candidates on this list. They are designated as an unranked regional university.

     

    Quality of candidate (out of five stars)

    1.5 stars with football; one-half star without

    Something would have to be done about that name. It's absolutely lousy. Perhaps, that could be a condition of admission.

    After all, despite having a great stadium, the WAC is the only FBS conference that would ever consider inviting Cal State Dominguez Hills, and that invitation would be entirely based on the school playing football. The WAC has all the leverage.

    "Cal State South LA" would be a ton more marketable.

    Do they want to be seen as the university of a neighborhood or the University of a metro area?  Dominguez Hills may be a name for a geographical region, but to anyone outside the state, the thought is, "it must be a suburb of Carson."

    Even a name like "Carson State" sounds way too small. "South Bay State" is better, but reflecting that the school is located in L.A. would do a lot to help the branding for the school and the WAC.

    Maybe "Southern California State?"

    A name change is not unprecedented when a university is trying to change their image for better financial returns. Look at Texas State.

    Anyway, great stadium situation, lousy name. 

8) Pacific

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    Why?

    The University of the Pacific is a very good academic school. They're ranked 101st in the national university category. That puts them in the top half of that category. Having those types of schools in your conference attracts other schools.

    Pacific won't join as an all sports member, but they might consider a football only membership.

    Pacific won't agree to a football-only membership in a WAC comprised of  five to seven football-playing schools, but they could strongly consider an offer to be a ninth to 12th football member. 

    Pacific has an association with the Methodist Church. The school recently moved from the Big West—a conference comprised mostly of California public universities—to the West Coast Conference—a conference comprised of similar small private universities with religious affiliations.

    Pacific was unlikely to ever respond to a WAC overture to play FBS football while they were a member of the Big West. To do so could have destabilized that league.

    Now that Pacific has a stable Olympic sports home with no WAC drama—a league with no FCS members—there are no pressures along those lines.

    The fundamentals still make sense for reinstating FBS football to be considered.

    Sports teams are promotional tools for universities. The move to the WCC puts Pacific's best sport and only revenue-generating sport into a very good conference for that sport. For a small private school like Pacific, it could make a lot of sense to get promotion in all the WCC's big markets AND get promotion via football in the WAC markets.

    As a promotional plan, playing WAC football could showcase Pacific to a lot of potential students in the western US.

    There are no FBS teams in the Sacramento DMA, and the economics make it tough for the public in California to consider FBS ball, creating a strategic advantage for Pacific.

    Pacific still has an appropriately sized FBS stadium in Stagg Stadium (capacity 30,000). They do have a city with the required population to support FBS football at a small private.

    While public schools in California are getting their budgets killed by spending cuts, private schools might be more willing to consider an FBS jump today.

     

    Hurdles and hindrances

    They may not have an interest, but they might. Pacific is evaluating what to do with Stagg Stadium.

    Upgrading Stagg would be expensive, but Pacific is a fairly wealthy private for it's size.

    As a football only member, they wouldn't count towards the headcount the WAC needs to satisfy today's FBS conference minimums.

     

    Quality of candidate (out of five stars)

    1.5 stars

    Pacific could be a very solid program with good support at the FBS level. Their affiliation would make the WAC more attractive to new members.

    Evan if they are the only football school in California, the costs of travel to a single football game in California every other year is reasonable. This would be a cost-effective means of planting the WAC flag in California.

    Landing Pacific as a football-only FBS member could be the catalyst that gets Cal Poly and UC Davis in gear.

9) UC San Diego

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    Why?

    If the Chargers leave San Diego and UCSD should ever add FBS football, UCSD looks like a Pac-12 school 20 years down the road. Great academics and research mean real university prestige.

    UCSD is a fantastic school. They do a ton of research and are ranked 37th (in the top 25 percent) in the national universities' category. Walking in the door, they would be the academic flagship of the WAC.

    They have an enrollment of just under 24,000.

    They are in a great market with no NBA team and an NFL team that may be leaving—potentially opening up an NFL stadium (Qualcomm) for a UCSD FBS startup.

    Rimac arena seats 5,000. UCSD plays men's soccer and also competes in fencing.

    They have decided they want to move up to Division I and have been trying to get into the Big West, but it hasn't happened yet, and might not be for a while.

    It may very well be that UCSD isn't in the Big West today, because San Diego State doesn't want UCSD added to the Big West. It would not be the first time that an established university worked behind closed doors to block the admission of a promising athletic program in the same DMA.

    That's actually a very common occurrence if you speak to athletic directors and conference commissioners off the record.

    The MWC appears unlikely to add a D-II school due to the perception hit they would take. That leaves the WAC or staying in Division II.

    UCSD has kicked the tires on the FBS world, but FBS football requires an invite from an FBS conference. It's tough to imagine the Pac-12 will invite a I-AAA school as a football startup.

     

    Hurdles and hindrances

    They have already publically snubbed the WAC without provocation over a perceived lack of academic quality in the WAC's member schools. Now, thankfully most of the WAC's lower-ranked academic members are gone, but there could be harsh feelings still among the remaining schools.

    If the WAC were to give them an FBS invite, as soon as UCSD acheived any Division I success they could, and probably would, be snapped up by another conference. Frankly with FBS chops, they would be looked on quite favorably by the Big West and MWC. It would be easy to see them bailing on the WAC in short order.

    The Chargers have not left yet, student support for massive increases in athletic funding is soft today, and the state of California is in a major financial crises. UCSD can afford to wait five years to try again to secure student funding if FBS football is their goal.

     

    Quality of candidate (out of five stars)

    1.5 stars with football; one star without

    It would appear today that there's room for an agreement with no loyalty between UCSD and the WAC—similar to what the Boise State situation has been for the last decade.

    I don't know if the WAC wants that kind of headache again. I don't know if it's worth it.

    The talk of an NCAA 10-year moratorium on upgrades could have UCSD rethinking their position on the WAC and open to an agreement that could have a little more loyalty built in.

    A lot of school presidents do not stay in their positions for 10 years. If a president sees taking his school to Division I as a priority, the moratorium talk is scary.

    The loss of most of the WAC's lesser-academic members could give UCSD the cover to accept a WAC membership. This would be especially true if Boise State leaves.

    If the WAC wants to compromise, they could invite UCSD but withhold an FBS invite for say five years. UCSD would be a fine I-AAA member of the WAC. Being a WAC member could do a lot to develop UCSD's sports.

    That would allow the WAC to profit from having UCSD in conference as they rebuild but would remove the allure for the Big West or MWC poaching UCSD for now.

    The potential of a 10-year moratorium on upgrades to Division I, and the lack of a Big West invite today could force UCSD's hand. That could put UCSD in purgatory (and possibly in the WAC) for a good while.

10) Azusa Pacific

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    Why?

    Azusa Pacific is an evangelical university located in greater Los Angeles on the edge of the Inland Empire.

    They're a somewhat highly regarded academic university, ranked a surprisingly high 170th in the national university listings. That's in the top 75 percent of that category. U.S. News sees them as something of an academic peer to a school like Idaho.

    With an enrollment of 9,278, they're the second-largest evangelical university in the U.S. behind Liberty University.

    They are 15 minutes away from the site for the proposed new Los Angeles Stadium. If they wanted to sell FBS football to evangelicals all over greater Los Angeles in order to try to become the Notre Dame of evangelicals—a lot of the elements for that appear to be falling into place for them.

    The Felix Events Center sits 3,500 for basketball.

     

    Hurdles and hindrances

    They was a power in the NAIA and are moving up to NCAA D-II currently. They have a $5.3 million athletic budget.

    They sponsor football, but it's a huge financial jump from NAIA to FBS. This is a situation where they might feel finances force them to chose between joining a D-I conference and continuing to play football (ala the decision the University of Nebraska at Omaha faced recently).

    An FCS WAC might be a good home.

    If they did not want to invest in FBS football now, it is possible they could save some investment money by playing non-scholarship football in the non-scholarship FCS Pioneer League.

     

    Quality of candidate (out of five stars)

    Two stars with FBS football in the new stadium. One star if they joined the WAC as an Olympic sports-only member or FCS member.

11) Academy of Art University

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    The last of our California candidates is The Academy of Arts University.

    Why?

    The PacWest school has a good enrollment and acceptable facilities to play at an I-AAA level. 

    They play in historic Kezar Pavillion in San Francisco. It has a capacity of 4,000.

    San Francisco is a great DMA, and it's also a good basketball recruiting area.

    They play men's soccer.

     

    Hurdles and hindrances

    They are a "for-profit" university. That is not considered very prestigious at all. This one, in particular, may be seen as more of a trade school by WAC members than a real university.

     

    Quality of candidate (out of five stars)

    One-half star to one star

    They are near the bottom of the candidate list, but they would offer an entrance into the Bay DMA and could pull it off financially, so they're on the list.

12) Grand Canyon University

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    Why?

    The PacWest school has a good enrollment and good facilities to play at a I-AAA level.

    They play in Grand Canyon University Arena—a brand new 5,000-seat arena in Phoenix. It has a capacity of 5,000.

    They play men's soccer and offer a lot of sports.

    The Phoenix DMA would be a welcome addition for the WAC.

     

    Hurdles and hindrances

    They are a "for-profit" university.

    As an unranked regional university, they're ranked lower than Boise State. Their academic profile is near the bottom of the candidates on this list. It's unlikely GCU will have an easy time securing the votes to gain admission.

     

    Quality of candidate (out of five stars)

    One-half star to one star

    Grand Canyon University might be willing to change their sports offerings in order to appeal more to the WAC. (The University of Nebraska at Omaha did the same to secure a Summitt invite.)

13) and 14) University of Hawaii at Hilo and Hawaii Pacific University

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    We are still in the shallow end of WAC candidates, but let's leave California for a few distant partnered schools who could make sense in the right circumstances. Let's start in a beautiful state and go to a cold one in our tour of  very long shots.

     

    Why?

    Hawaii Pacific University is a private school on Oahu with an enrollment of 9,000 (sadly spread across two campuses, but one is in Honolulu!). 

    They play at the D-II level—too low of a level for "locals" or the military to care about. This can be seen in that their attendance numbers were apparently either genericly reported as 200 (an average game) or 300 (a good game).

    They have access to an adequate arena for WAC-level basketball in the 7,700-seat Blaisdell Arena in Honolulu. It's closer to downtown and the military base than UH Monoa's larger Stan Sheriff Center, but if HPU doesn't play any schools of note, fans won't show up.

    Athletics promote university brands and inspire alumni to contribute to a university.

    If fans don't show up, alumni won't care. If alumni don't care, the university will struggle to extract donations, and their endowment and prestige will continue to stagnate.

    UH Hilo is a very small public university with an enrollment of slightly over 4,100. Ordinarily, this would be far too small of a school for me to consider a candidate—even as an I-AAA candidate. 

    There are no FBS dreams at UHH, but there are dreams of growth and independence from UH Monoa.

    UHH has one of the highest annual growth rates in the nation. It serves the Big Island—an island with a population of about 175,000, devoid of many other options in higher education.

    It's located in the largest city on the Island—Hilo—with a population of 43,000.

    It seems very reasonable that upgrading to I-AAA athletics could further spur university growth at UHH.

    There's a perception that the University of Hawaii at Monoa has been working very hard to keep the Hilo campus in the system, and there's a perception on the Big Island that Monoa-backed policies could be slowing the development of the Hilo campus.

    A lot of locals on the Big Island would prefer UHH be allowed to evolve into its own entity, assuming the unused moniker "Hawaii State University." (A bill was actually introduced to the Hawaii State Legislature in 2005 to achieve that goal but was killed by the State of Hawaii House Finance Committee.)

    When universities reach a certain point in their development, they try to evolve into more traditional campuses. Having sports attracts students to live close by or on campus helps as does having sufficient on campus housing.

    For the next stage of UHH's development, having higher-profile sports could be a huge benefit and could actually help UHH develop some leverage.

    Consider the leverage that both schools could earn. If the WAC schools have to fly to Hawaii for two games, it could be very valueable to UH Monoa to have the Division I WAC schools pick up a third game against them with no travel subsidies paid.

    Could independence for the Hilo campus be the WAC's cost?

    The ability to develop a Division I island rivalry—Oahu vs. Hawaii (the Big Island)—could spur the growth of fan support for both programs.

    Both schools play men's soccer.

    It's a huge long shot, and there are much better candidates, but in the right situation, this could work out for all parties.

     

    Hurdles and hindrances

    Is there any desire? This is admittedly quite out of the box. It's entirely likely that neither school thought a potential Division I home might present itself, and as such, have no plans for that contingency.

    UHH is a young university which is unranked on an entirely different scale as a "national liberal arts college." They have made some notable progress in raising money for research though. That bodes well.

    Hawaii Pacific is the 87th-ranked Western regional university.

    Some WAC administrators may cut both schools a little slack as a state's universities are going to reflect the quality of the state's high schools to a large degree. Hawaii's are generally seen as poor, bringing students in who are behind the national average. WAC schools get that, but still, neither school is even as academically prestigious as Boise State.

    WAC schools have traditionally balked about travel to Hawaii, but it's a lot more reasonable if WAC schools knock out two to three games on each trip. I think two week-long trips to Hawaii in a recruit's career would be a recruiting edge for WAC schools.

    Still, travel is at least a hurdle in the minds of WAC membership. Travel to Hawaii, again, may just be too much of a hurdle to get any serious consideration.

     

    Quality of candidate (out of five stars)

    A pair of one-half-star candidates but a potential ongoing affiliation with UH could have real value down the line.

    This would likely only be a consideration if the WAC landed some California schools to bridge the Hawaii schools or some Alaska schools to mirror them.

15) and 16) Alaska Fairbanks and Alaska Anchorage

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    Why?

    The GNAC duo have good enrollments to fund playing at a I-AAA level. 

    The University of Alaska Anchorage has an enrollment of 18,586, and the University of Alaska Fairbanks has an enrollment of 9,855.

    Alaska Fairbanks is the more academically prestigious of the two as an unranked national university.  Alaska Anchorage is an unranked regional university.

    Alaska Anchorage appears to have the stronger athletic programs and better fan support.

    Both schools offer men's hockey and skiing.

     

    Hurdles and hindrances

    They are far away. Maybe, that could be mitigated by playing both schools on a trip to Alaska.

    They do not play football, and the finances suggest that's a really good idea for both them and their conference mates.

     

    Quality of candidate (out of five stars)

    One half star for both

    While you would own Alaska viewers, there are only 722,000 people in Alaska.

    Their academic profiles are less impressive than many of the candidates on this list.

17) and 18 ) University of British Columbia and Simon Frasier University

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    Why?

    For American sports fans who don't understand why the WAC should even consider a Canadian school, one needs to understand that an association with the University of British Columbia is a big deal among college presidents.

    UBC is a like Canadian peer of say the Universities of Texas or Michigan. They're a giant public (over 43,000 students) university that's considered academically excellent on an international level.

    U.S. News ranks UBC as the 51st-"best" university in the world using their international ratings. That's actually ahead of U.S. elites UNC (No. 55), Texas (No. 76) and USC (No. 107). (Now their international ranking may not make a ton of sense to people used to their strictly domestic ranking criteria but just take it to mean that UBC is seen as a peer.)

    Local rival Simon Frasier University is not as prestigious but is still respectable. They could be UBC's  travel partner. SFU has an enrollment of 35,000 and is already a member of the Division II GNAC.

    Both schools have been looking south longingly for quite a while. That inclination suggests that they feel they might better be able to leverage their enrollments to better promote their universities in a U.S. athletic conference.

    Vancouver is a very large city just north of the state of Washington, and there are 4.5 million people in British Columbia.

    Simon Fraser plays men's soccer.

    The NBA's Vancouver Grizzlies teams were fairly non-competitive and lacked a player who was as exciting as Vince Carter. With that in mind, Vancouver supported them fairly well. 

    There's reason to be optimistic about the level of support UBC and SFU basketball may be able to secure. The two schools would likely have the cream of Canadian high school basketball talent playing for them in a good American basketball conference in the WAC.

    Both schools play in small gymnasiums appropriate to their competition today—UBC plays basketball in 2,222-seat War Memorial Gymnasium, and SFU currently plays basketball in in their 1,500-seat West Gymnasium—but changes would need to occur there. 

    There are larger venues available in the area. The Grizzlies' former home, 19,700-seat Rogers Arena, is available, but it's far too large. The PNE Agrodome might prove to be a workable home court for a school like SFU, but really, it isn't ideal either.

    If they can work out their facility issues, prestige and TV gains would make this duo a welcome addition for the WAC.

     

    Hurdles and hindrances

    Lets start with the fact that the NCAA Division I doesn't allow Canadian schools. Now, maybe if the WAC pursued them, the NCAA would modify the rules, but that's a "maybe."

    Additionally, who knows how international politics and laws would affect this proposition?

    Canadian collegiate athletics are not well-funded. Their programs function more like Division II or Division III athletic programs.  

    And, like almost all Canadian schools (Laval being a notable exception), they either don't really get the business side of collegiate sports (promotion, ticket sales, etc.) or just aren't able to leverage their product into that any serious revenue generation.

    Both schools would probably not even be competitive initially in any sports, with the possible exception of basketball. Luckily, full scholarships for athletes aren't as common in Canada. Both schools would quickly leverage that competitive advantage over their Canadian peers into strong WAC teams.

    Additionally, it isn't like British Columbia lacks the talent to support two strong I-AAA programs.

    Their football programs however are literally at least a decade away from being WAC-level. 

     

    Quality of candidate (out of five stars)

    UBC is a 2.5-star candidate; SFU is a one-star candidate.

    There are too many variables to make this play sensible for the WAC right now. Maybe in a year or a few more, if the WAC can rebuild a bit, and the Canada schools can upgrade their arenas, the WAC could look into both schools.

    If they were invited to the WAC, it would probably be best to encourage them to return their football to Canada West (a Canadian regional conference) or take up playing non-scholarship FCS football in the Pioneer League.

    If push came to shove—if community support was there—and both were fiercely interested in playing FBS ball, maybe they could play at BC Place and make the jump immediately. I would doubt it though.

19) Weber State University

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    Next on our list are five middle-rung Big Sky schools who could break rank due to a lack of confidence in the Montanas' commitment to the Big Sky. The first is Weber State.

     

    Why?

    Weber State is in a good DMA, and with 23,335 students, they have the enrollment to succeed at the FBS level.

    Weber State's outdoor stadium already seats 17,500. A level of 19,000 to 20,000 or more is really what schools wanting to move up should target in order to yeild attendance over 16,000.

    In the short term, adding a cheap end-zone berm could get it up to an acceptable capacity should they decide to play FBS football.

    Weber State is often the class of the Big Sky in basketball—the other revenue sport.

    Only in academics does Weber State look a little light as a WAC candidate. 

    Weber State is being a good conference mate and towing the line in the Big Sky, but that could put their programs at risk down the road.

    If the WAC does rebuild as an FBS conference with an Eastern Division, the WAC would likely add Utah Valley University in the west to balance divisions.

    Utah Valley allegedly has a plan to play FBS football and a pot of money to pay for it.

    If the Eastern Division happens, it's likely there may only be two to four spots in a Western Division for future upgrades.

    A WAC Eastern Division comprised of most of the FCS's remaining eastern elites could seriously shake the confidence of the stronger FCS programs in the FCS.

    That could lead the Montanas to jump to the WAC in the near future.

    If the Montanas take two spots in the WAC in three to four years and UVU takes another, there literally may not be a spot for Weber state.

    Additionally, if UVU is looking at playing FBS football, it would be fairly likely that Utah Valley would block the admission of Weber State to protect their advantage in football recruiting in Utah.

    Weber State may be stuck in a gutted Big Sky.

    There is also the plain fact that Weber State does not draw well in football in the Big Sky and the implications that carries.

    Weber State has clearly tried to improve the marketability their football product. They have hired coaches who have won at area schools in former Utes Coach Ron McBride and former Utah State coach John L. Smith that have local credibility.

    In marketing terms, it's an optimal approach.

    They had their best in conference record in school history in 2008 and averaged 6,910 per game. In 2009, it was 6,500 per game. In 2010, it was 6,913 per game. Last year, they finally broke the 7,000 threshold, drawing 8,487 per game.

    They have clearly put a lot of effort, thought and money into trying to fix their football attendance issues, but there still seems to be a question of how much they can draw playing a Big Sky schedule.

    Smith left Weber State in the lurch to take the Arkansas job. That leaves Weber State without a name to sell to fans locally for the first time since 2005.

    If there is a 10-year moratorium on upgrading, that could leave Weber State football bleeding to death at the FCS level in a Big Sky without its best conference draws.

    It could make a lot of sense for Weber State to jump to the FBS level today. They will draw a lot more hosting Wyoming, Idaho or Utah State than they would hosting Idaho State or Sacramento State.

    If Weber State took a WAC invite, the Wildcat leadership could insist Utah Valley gets into the WAC, with it understood UVU will never receive an FBS invite. (That would create a new, deep and marketable rivalry for the Wildcats.)

    The Dee Events Center seats 11,500 for basketball.

    Weber State basketball, and the credibility it would restore to the WAC, would give the Weber State leadership the leverage to make that demand.

    And it would probably hack off Utah State.

     

    Hurdles and hindrances

    Weber State could do it, but frankly may not be motivated enough to do it. The Big Sky has been selling the conference, and the FCS as stable based on Montana staying. Changing gears is tough. The remaining Big Sky would still be a fairly decent conference for Weber State. They may chose to bide their time too.

    They are classified as a regional university, and at No. 76, in the West are ranked a little lower than Boise State. That could cost them support with WAC members.

    It looks like Weber State does not see how they could be squeezed out or how much power they actually wield between the two conferences. Weber State leaving the Big Sky for the WAC would totally change the perceptions of both conferences in basketball.

    It's very possible that a Weber State defection could be just as damaging to the Big Sky as a Montana defection.

     

    Quality of candidate (out of five stars)

    Two stars

    In 10 years, I could easily see Weber State almost totally erasing the basketball impact of the loss of Utah State, but academically, they aren't seen as a national university.

    This is a school that could really be screwing themselves by not jumping today.

20) Northern Arizona University

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    Why?
     
    They are the third-largest public university in Arizona (18,824). They're in the Phoenix DMA but are far enough from Tempe and Phoenix in Flagstaff that they could dominate the local entertainment market at the FBS level.

    They are classified as a national university, albeit in the bottom quarter of that designation.

    There are 134,000 people in Cococino county and 60,611 in Flagstaff. Given the enrollment, current attendance levels and the size of the local population, pulling the 17,000 or so fans required to be a stable FBS program seems very possible.

    Walkup Skydome seats 15,000 for football. When portable seating is used, capacity can be increased to 16,230. (For perspective, Idaho has struggled to maintain FBS-level attendance averages with their 16,000-seat Kibbie Dome).

    Strategically, NAU is in a weak position in the Big Sky. One hopes they see it.

    FCS football is considered unviable by the strong programs at that level and becoming more so by the day. Montana's former AD spelled it out in his now infamous letter which uncovered the unpleasant reality of FCS.

    Montana is one of about five FCS programs that fairly regularly used to turn a profit. The leak of O'Day's letter tipped off a rash of upgrade talk at top FCS programs across the U.S.

    Montana and Montana State have successfully created a plug preventing schools in the Big West and Big Sky from jumping to the WAC, but that appears strictly to get everyone on Montana's schedule.

    As they're proclaiming their love for the FCS, Montana and Montana State are upgrading the capacities of their stadiums—a move that suggests preparing for FBS status.

    Now, it looks like the Montanas are spreading the message of unity to possibly attempt to start the process to move up as a conference in five years, but is it likely schools like Idaho State, Southern Utah and Northern Colorado will be prepared for such a venture at that date?

    It's not difficult to imagine a new FBS conference forming under whatever rules are in play when the Montanas are ready to move up.

    Montana, Montana State, Portland State, Sacramento State, Cal Poly and UC Davis would likely be in, perhaps, with FBS vagabond Idaho.

    Now, maybe NAU would take the last spot in that conference, but Weber State may have a much better shot.

    Neither school draws well at the FCS level. NAU averaged 7,398 last year. Weber averaged 6,913.  Both would probably draw much better just due to moving up to the FBS level.

    NAU has a dome which may not be expandable to the 19,000-plus capacity—that's a minimum for solid turnouts at the FBS level. Idaho provides a lession about the trouble with inviting a school in a small dome to the FBS ranks. Idaho's fruitless dome expansion saga is the perfect example of why NAU may be left behind.

    There's no comparison when comparing Weber State's performance in the other revenue sport to NAU's. Weber State basketball is the gem of the Big Sky.

    Where does that leave NAU? Potentially in an FCS Big Sky that might just drop football and go I-AAA.

    FBS or FCS WAC membership, NAU might strongly consider a WAC invitation.

    If the WAC decided to rebuild the conference as an FBS conference, wouldn't it make more sense for NAU's leadership to announce a concern about the viability of FCS football by 2022, and then, hope for a WAC invite?

    Realistically, if NAU should move up to the WAC, all NAU would need to say to soothe hurt feelings among their Big Sky rivals is that every current Big Sky school that applies to the WAC would be assured of NAU's vote.

    Walkup Skydome seats 7,000 for basketball.


    Hurdles and hindrances

    Is the money there?

    Can the stadium be expanded? Can luxury booths, at least, be added to generate more income?

    Can the university count on any help from their alumni or the state to fund renovations and the increased costs at the FBS level? All are very valid concerns.

    Perhaps, NAU's leadership publically questioning the long-term viability of FCS football team may have both sources finding the money for an upgrade.

    Plus, playing a few Pac-12 body bag games as an FBS school can make up a lot of the budgetary shortfall.

     

    Quality of candidate (out of five stars)

    One to 1.5 stars

    Ultimately, if Idaho can survive at the FBS level in their undersized Dome, NAU could probably do it.

    NAU's football could very well be at risk within 10 years if they don't jump to the WAC.

21) Eastern Washington University

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    Why?

    Eastern Washington is a relatively small public school as an FBS candidate. Their enrollment is only 10,750.

    Roos Field has a capacity of 8,700. With temporary seating capacity can accommodate 12,000. Today, the capacity is far too small for FBS competition, but there are plans for future expansion. It would be a very solid home if the WAC invited them as an FCS member.

    Like UNA and Weber State, EWU is towing the company line in the Big Sky. Like those schools, they could be left behind in the future.

    It's hard to see EWU getting to come along in either of the Montanas' upgrade options.

    Spokane is a nice DMA. The University of Idaho is actually in the Spokane DMA, but they have more of a statewide following in Idaho than a dominant following in the Spokane DMA. In other words, adding Eastern Washington could work in WAC terms. EWU would balance Seattle, giving the WAC a better argument of statewide support in Washington.

    EWU's 2010 FCS national title suggests the State of Washington could potentially support three FBS schools.

    EWU has an FCS-sized stadium on campus, but there's an appropriate WAC-sized stadium in Spokane in aging 28,646 seat Joe Albi Stadium. Joe Albi Stadium is far too large for FCS crowds but could be a very good temporary home for an FBS Eagles football team while Roos Field is being upgraded.

    Reese Court is EWU's 6,000-seat basketball arena.

     

    Hurdles and hindrances

    Do they have the money to afford FBS expenses?

    Would Division I allow their red turf ?

    They are ranked No. 63 in the Western regional universities. That's barely ahead of Boise State. That may be an issue that prevents them from securing votes.

     

    Quality of candidate (out of five stars)

    One star as an FBS school; one-half star as an FCS school

    Eastern Washington could actually be a pretty solid addition.

22) Idaho State University

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    Why?

    Idaho State is a national university, albeit in the bottom quarter.

    They are essentially a poor man's version of Idaho. They have their own undersized dome, Holt Arena, but much smaller fan support and a much lesser TV argument.

    They would certainly be left behind should the Montanas bolt from the Big Sky. They have much more to lose by swearing allegiance to the Big Sky.

     

    Hurdles and hindrances

    Holt Arena seats 8,000 for basketball but only 12,000 for football.

    Given Idaho's troubles getting stadium expansion funding from their incredibly cheap state, I cannot imagine Idaho State would have more success, so I suggest offering ISU an Olympic-only membership based on ISU playing new sports that help the WAC's sports count.

    Maybe they could play non-scholarship football in the Pioneer League, but I suspect the WAC would want them to drop football for now if their Dome could not be expanded. It would send a message to the state, frees up money for other sports and it would make Idaho State count as an all-sports WAC member.

    Or, the WAC could add them as an FCS member should the conference take that route.

    Idaho State could always be "grandfathered" a conditional FBS offer that states that if they get a 20,000-seat facility built, they can start up football again—this time at the FBS level.

     

    Quality of candidate (out of five stars)

    One-half to one star

    A tiny market already held should dictate a one-half-star grade or less, but if Idaho State added sports like hockey, men's soccer, lacrosse and skiing in lieu of old standbys like football and track and field, it could do a lot to help improve the WAC's sports offerings for optimal TV appeal.

23) University of North Dakota

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    Our last Big Sky school is the University of North Dakota.

     

    Why?

    Hockey and their ability to destabilize other conferences.

    If the WAC had a goal of sponsoring hockey—a sport that most conferences do not sponsor—adding a hockey power like UND would be smart.

    That would give the WAC two hockey powers (Denver being the other). That could help recruiting more schools.

    These are the same two hockey powers that were the force behind the formation of the new National Collegiate Hockey Conference.

    WIth Denver and UND in the WAC, it isn't hard to imagine the NCHC reborn as the WAC sponsoring hockey. Drop Western Michigan and add Michigan Tech and there you go. Very strong academic schools with a great history in the sport playing hockey. That's pretty strong.

    Hockey is a good, not great TV sport. It's not football, but it's not track and field either. People watch hockey.

    UND is a very respectable candidate academically. They are the highest ranked of the four major Dakota schools, ranked No. 164 in the national university category. Their academics add appeal to the Big Sky for Montana.

    UND offers a lot of sports and might consider modifying the sports they play if it gets them into a better conference home.

    UND may be motivated to join if the WAC comes knocking. They are a hockey school first.

    They have at least one booster with very deep pockets, so it may be within their means.

     

    Hurdles and hindrances

    There are a lot of potential hurdles.

    Their historic nickname was an issue with today's politically correct NCAA. The nickname is gone, but their main booster was dead set against changing it. UND would almost certainly need his family's financial support to try to jump to the FBS level today. Will they have that support? Or is his loss still too fresh in his mind?

    Their old on campus football stadium (Memorial Stadium) seats only 9,600.

    Their newer off campus football home is a community-owned dome that was built last decade and only seats 12,283. It appears to be experiencing financial issues (it competes with UND's basketball arena—owned by their power booster—for events) which may make the local public unreceptive to funding a revamp.

    The dome is not currently suited for FBS play. That makes this idea potentially caustic to the locals who paid for the Dome.

    UND does not draw well in basketball. They would have to seriously step up their efforts there.

     

    Quality of candidate (out of five stars)

    Two stars

    It would be very ugly, but there are enough assets floating around there that you could make this mess work in an FBS setting if everyone is willing to compromise a little.

    That may be asking way too much.

    Thinking out loud, this might be the nuts and bolts of a compromise:

    Adding temp seating to the end zones and Western sideline at Memorial Stadium could get capacity up to a tolerable 19,000. Additional temporary booths could be installed on the Eastern grandstand at a relatively cheap cost. How "luxurious" they would be...I can't say. Short term, it could be workable, but how will the fans adjust to being back outside after a decade in climate control?

    Still it's a temporary solution that could work for now.

    At the FBS level, renting the Alerus as an indoor training facility during football season is a reasonable action for a university in a cold weather state.  A facility for men's soccer could make sense.

    If the University was able to coordinate with the city and the Alerus staff, the Alerus could also potentially be used as an inclement-weather alternative football game-day site with the Memorial Stadium staff working under the leadership of the Alerus management staff.

    For each game, 12,000 tickets could be printed before game day with seating numbers at both stadiums.

    Men's basketball could move from the 3,300-seat arena, The Betty Engelstad Sioux Center, to the Alerus Center. The Alerus seats 9,500 for basketball. Basketball (soccer?) and a training site/emergency site for football would probably fill enough days to ease the financial burden on the Alerus Center.

    The combination could stabilize the finances for Alerus to appease the locals. That would really be a pretty good outcome for both parties.

    That would please the WAC members who probably would not be thrilled with a men's arena as small as the Betty, but it seems a cavernous home for UND's small basketball attending fanbase. A lot of promotion would have to occur there. Big opponents would have to be brought in fairly regularly.

    For this to work, UND would have to invest much more in basketball.

    Luckily, UND hockey is a cash cow.

    Maybe UND could buy a few seasons for an investigation of whether or not the Alerus could be expanded to 19,000-plus—really the minimum capacity to allow a successful FBS program—and how much it would cost.

    But there is so much that would have to be worked out. And it all takes Booster money.

    The question is, "How motivated are they?"

24) Utah Valley University

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    Why?

    Maybe the WAC could get Utah Valley University to start up football. They have a good basketball culture and an excellent facility.  In interview reports by Peter Case with athletic director Mike Jacobsen (via The Upset), they are rumored to have been squirreling away $1.5 million-plus annually into a football start-up fund ever since they discovered their basketball program alone was not sufficient to land them in a conference with an automatic basketball tourney bid.

    Their university either is or soon will have the largest enrollment in Utah. A large enough enrollment is a big key to FBS support levels.

    At its rate of growth, in 10 years, it will be one of the largest enrollments in the nation. UVU is emerging as a very similar school in that regard to Central Florida, South Florida and Florida International. The newsworthy point there? None of those schools spent too long at the Sunbelt/WAC/MAC level.

     

    Hurdles and hindrances

    UVU is a former JUCO, and as such, has a lousy academic reputation at this point in their transition. They are an unranked regional university in the West. Their academics are ranked lower than Boise State's. That means they have to upgrade their athletics.

    UVU would probably need to evict the NBDL Utah Flash semi-pro team that's squatting in their basketball arena to have a shot to draw strong basketball crowds. I would make that a cost of admission to the WAC, as a conference mandate would remove any local backlash on UVU for kicking the Flash out.

    They would need to build a stadium, according to the Wasatch Blog, but again, there is a report of plans in existence to do that. In the interim, do not discount that possibility that it could be possible for them to play a season or two at (what would be for them) a cavernous LaVell Edwards stadium.

    BYU losing fans to UVU would be like the Dallas Cowboys losing fans to UT Arlington—not an issue. There's no financial downside to letting UVU pay rent to use BYU's stadium for a few years.

    BYU and UVU share quite a lot of history as UVU was once a JUCO that fed students into BYU. Plus, Mormons have a great sense of community.

    Finally, there is the tactical side of the argument. A football playing UVU is not going to hurt BYU's recruiting, but it could hurt Utah and Utah State's recruiting. Those schools do steal players from BYU. If those schools lose talent and start losing more games, that could push more on the fence BYU recruits to Provo.

    Additionally, taking the Utah Flash out of the area would probably help BYU's basketball attendance too.

    There could be surprising support at BYU to help out.

    Or maybe, UVU could build a temporary stadium. This is unheard of in the U.S., but the Canadian Football League's B.C. Lions built a pretty nice, covered 27,000-seat temporary stadium to host them for a season as their permanent home was being modified. Total cost? $14 million.

    It certainly should not be plan A, but if push came to shove, what would an 18,000 seat temporary stadium with a five-year lifespan cost?

    If UVU has actually been putting away their money for years, that could be a reasonable alternative.

    It would pay for itself as a curiosity and attention grabber for a Utah Valley football program.

     

    Quality of candidate (out of five stars)

    One-half star without football; one star with football

    UVU football would likely be a slow starter like FIU's football was at the FBS level, but UVU basketball could quickly take off if they can shed their squatter.

    It seems likely that UVU could also consider adding sports or changing their sports offerings if it helps them get into the WAC.

25) Colorado School of Mines

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    Why?

    This is a school I actually love as a candidate so much, it will be the subject of my next WAC piece.

    A move to the WAC would represent a major promotional change for the university. They are a small public university (3,338 student enrolled) with a large endowment for their size ($196 million).

    Their endowment could swell like a private university's with more exposure.

    Academically, they're very strong. They're ranked 75th among national universities. (For perspective, Pac-12 member Colorado is ranked 94th.)

    The Orediggers have 18 varsity teams and would be a perfect Division I rival/travel partner to Denver.

    They are located in the small town of Golden, Colorado (Home of Coors), but Jefferson County has 534,000 people in 778 square miles yielding a very promising population density of 683 people per square mile around "Mines."

    The Orediggers play men's soccer.

    It's difficult to imagine Coors not wanting to be a major corporate supporter of Mines should they go to D-I. It simply is too enticing.

     

    Hurdles and hindrances

    They play D-II football and are committed to it, having recently upgraded their stadium. I think their football program could potentially be parked in the FCS Pioneer League—or in an FCS WAC.

    Their athletic budget is at about $4.5 million a year at the Division II Level. That would have to go up, but this school can afford it, and frankly, much of the costs—if not all of the costs—would likely be recouped.

    They are a small school with under 4,000 students, so desire to upgrade is a legitimate question.

     

    Quality of candidate (out of five stars)

    2.5 stars

    This is the kind of school that could glue together the WAC.

26) North Dakota State

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    A North Dakota FBS invitation has a real chance to unravel the Summit League as it would put UND in the recruiting driver's seat ahead of the three Dakota members in the Summit League. Turning that recruiting and status hierarchy on its head overnight could motivate the other three Dakota schools.

     

    Why?

    North Dakota State offers a ready-to-go FBS product.

    NDSU might take the offer because they recognize their football program is more advanced than their conference mates at USD and SDSU. This could put them in the driver's seat in recruiting in the area, cementing their current advantage.

    They also could feel forced to take a WAC offer if UND takes a WAC offer. Should UND FBS football take off, North Dakota is not a very populous state. UND could push to block NDSU from getting an invite, and the relative small size of the state could have the other WAC members agreeing. NDSU could find itself excluded from the FBS club.

    The Dakota schools have enough talent nearby that the best of them each year is pretty dangerous.  Lately, that has been NDSU. NDSU is a dangerous potential upset in football for many FBS schools.

    Ranked in the top 75 percent of the national university designation (181st), with an enrollment of over 14,000 and a dome that seats 19,500, NDSU is really almost a prototypical FBS candidate for the WAC.

     

    Hurdles and hindrances

    There are not a lot of people in North Dakota.

    NDSU could easily decline a WAC offer over appearances of instability. They are in what appears to be a more stable pair of homes in the Summit League and the Missouri Valley Football Conference. NDSU may not feel any urgency to accept.

     

    Quality of candidate (out of five stars)

    One to 1.5 stars

27) and 28) South Dakota and South Dakota State

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    Why?

    USD and SDSU are decent FBS candidates down the road, but it's my impression that they may be further from FBS competition than the North Dakota schools. Unlike NDSU, they don't have a adequate stadium. They also may not have the access to funds that UND appears to have.

    Academically, both are at the right level. Both are national universities. SDSU and USD are tied at No. 194, still solidly in the top 75 percent of the rankings of that designation.

    SDSU competes in equestrian.

    SDSU plays basketball at 6,500-seat Frost Arena.

     

    Hurdles and hindrances

    Stadiums and the will to move up.

    South Dakota State plays in 15,000-seat Coughlin-Alumni Stadium. While like UND they could make a go of it at that capacity, really the Eastern grandstand probably needs to be totally replaced. The eastern grandstands seat about one-third of the western grandstands, and really, that side probably needs to match the capacity of the Western grandstand bringing capacity up to around 22,000. 

    The western grandstands and the luxury boxes likely also need expensive improvements to generate FBS-level revenue. I think SDSU would want to push this down the road a bit if they could, especially as their in-state rival USD is will probably take even longer to move up.

    The Dakota Dome is a 10,000-seat dome. It's a perfect facility for an FCS school and a great home for basketball, but USD would likely have to entirely replace it for USD to consider FBS football. That's some cash.

     

    Quality of candidate (out of five stars)

    SDSU and USD are one-star candidates.

    If NDSU and UND are in the WAC, the South Dakota schools might consider tweaking the sports they offer to grease their way into the WAC...especially if the WAC should decide to also sponsor FCS football.

29) University of Missouri- Kansas City

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    If the Dakota schools toy with leaving the Summit League, other schools like the University of Missouri-Kansas City and the University of Nebraska at Omaha could look to jump to the WAC too.

    Why?

    UMKC is an academic peer.  They are a national university (ranked No. 181).

    They have home run potential in basketball in a better conference. They play in Kansas City—an NFL-sized DMA with no pro or major college-level basketball competition. They are in a very good region for basketball recruiting.

    They play men's soccer.

    Hurdles and hindrances

    Summit basketball has proven too small-time to get the attention of Kansas City residents. UMKC decided to move their basketball back on campus to the tiny Swinney Recreation Center to save money and build up a good student turnout. Swinney seats 2,000.

    That wouldn't work for the current WAC members.

    UMKC used to play in historic 7,316-seat Municipal Auditorium. That would be a fine location for a WAC school.

     

    Quality of candidate (out of five stars)

    1.5 stars if they up their commitment to basketball; one-half star if they don't

    The WAC would be smart to offer UMKC a conditional offer based on three prerequisites.

    1) Fix their arena issues. Either pay to build a 5,000-plus seat on-campus stadium or move back into Municipal Auditorium.

    2) Budget money for a proven coach who has had success in the area. UMKC basketball can sell tickets to Municipal if they have local credibility.  The WAC can provide some of that.  A named coach would provide the rest.

    3) UMKC would need to commit to making bigger payouts to host at least four bigger-name regional opponents who are good draws. "Kansas, Kansas State, Witchita State, Creighton, Missouri, Arkansas, Missouri State, Louisville? You guys play us at our home, and you keep the majority of the gate revenue."

30) University of Nebraska at Omaha

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    Why?

    The University of Nebraska at Omaha is a surprisingly decent potential FBS candidate. UNO's leadership shut down a fairly popular and storied FCS football program (via Paula Lavigne of ESPN) to free up money to start new sports that fit the Summit's immediate needs. The move greased their way into Division I but was quite unpopular locally.

    Al F. Caniglia Field was a 9,500-seat football stadium that's being converted to a soccer field. It would need a major upgrade to host FBS football, but the bones of the stadium are fairly good.

    Taking out the track, adding a south end-zone berm,and doing a "dig down" like the University of Houston did at Robertson Stadium would seem a sensible path to getting the capacity at Caniglia Field up to 20,000.  Adding some new chairbacked seats and luxury boxes would also be smart additions in a second phase of renovation.

    Those are costly changes. There are other places to play FBS ball in Omaha until they get around to upgrading Caniglia. The UFL's Omaha Nighthawks played football in 24,000-seat TD Ameritrade Park Omaha. The Stadium has all the bells and whistles and is a perfect capacity home for an FBS startup in the WAC.

    Dangling FBS football in front of UNO's boosters and Omaha residents and politicians could yield surprising results—especially if their conference could be gobbled up by the WAC overnight leaving UNO stranded.

    Nebraska is a football crazy state.

    UNO is considered a national university but are in the bottom quarter of schools meeting that criteria.

    They also play hockey against Colorado and UND and would move the WAC a step closer to sponsoring hockey as a team sport. They also play men's soccer.

    UNO will play basketball at the brand new 5,340-seat Ralston Arena.

     

    Hurdles and hindrances

    Oddly enough, I don't think money is a problem. If UNO is using Caniglia as a practice facility and TD Ameritrade Park as their home stadium, they really have workable facilities to play in the WAC today with little investment.

    Their attendance at TD Ameritrade Park could help the school's athletic coffers.

    There is, however, an argument that the termination of football at UNO was really not a financial decision. (The financial argument was actually challenged at the time by an economist, named Andy Schwarz, who follows athletics, according ESPN's Paula Lavigne.)

    There is a thought that the University of Nebraska doesn't want a second FBS school in the state.  Would state politics allow a rebirth of the UNO football team as an FBS program?

     

    Quality of candidate (out of five stars)

    1.5 stars with football; one star as an Olympic sport member or hockey-only addition.

    An FBS program in Omaha playing at Ameritrade Park could become a strong draw. The hockey angle would make this an even better play.

    If UNO refused to play FBS football (or was not allowed to), it could make sense to offer them a hockey only associate membership.

31) Creighton

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    Why?

    In the instance UNO doesn't want to play FBS football in TD Ameritrade Park, could Creighton?

    Creighton stopped playing in 1942, but the plain facts are the UFL drew decent crowds at Omaha's baseball parks. It had to open some eyes at local universities.

    FBS football in Omaha at TD Ameritrade Park may be one of the safest plays among FBS startup opportunities.

    When you consider the numbers Creighton draws in basketball and the numbers the UFL Knighthawks drew, it isn't difficult to imaging Creighton drawing 18,000 or more per football game in short order.

    Creighton has a very well supported and successful basketball program. They are designated as a regional university, but they're ranked as the No. 1 regional university in the Midwest. That is very prestigious.

     

    Hurdles and hindrances

    Creighton has major history and strong rivalries in the geographically sensible Missouri Valley Conference, so the offer would have to be a football-only offer at this point. The WAC could use full members who play football a lot more.

     

    Quality of candidate (out of five stars)

    1.5 stars as a football-only member

    Landing Creighton as a football-only membership would help a lot.

32) Wichita State

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    Why?

    Even though they are likely to say no, it would be worth floating a public offer to Wichita State to play football in the WAC.

    The Shockers moth-balled their football program in 1986 alledgedly due to poor attendance and costs. It should be noted that there were a lot of factors at play. 

    WSU was drawing less than 10,000 fans per game after 18 losing seasons in their last 20 years. In 1985, the Missouri Valley Conference ended its sponsorship of Division I-A football. Finally, the Shockers were looking at a fairly expensive refitting of 30,000-seat Cessna Stadium.

    WSU could have probably afforded to play at the I-AA level, but their president of the time, Warren Armstrong, allegedly wanted no part of Division I-AA. His point was 'If we can't fly first class, I don't want to fly at all," according to former WSU assistant athletic director Tim Weiser.

    Whether you like football at all, there appears to be a very clear correlation between football and enrollment growth at Kansas universities. Most articles on the subject of Wichita State playing football point to that correlation. Wichita State's enrollment growth has essentially flatlined since they stopped playing football.

    While it's possible that suspending football may have made economic sense in the short term, it appears not reinstating it has proven to be a bad business decision. In 1998, an advisory committee told Wichita State' leadership this after studying the issue for 15 months.

    And it has been a bad for the City of Wichita. Former Mayor Carlos Mayans, understood the financial impact the loss of Shocker football had on the university and, as a result, on the city. He tried to have the city fund resurrecting the football program, but Wichita State's leadership was not on the same page. Mayans' critics decried his actions as ham-fisted and unilateral. His efforts failed.

     

    Hurdles and hindrances

    The stadium and the desires of Wichita State's leadership

    In 1992, the cost of bringing Cessna Stadium up to compliance with 1-A standards of the time was estimated to be $24 Million.  Whether this was an honest quote or something to discourage pro football voices is not clear.

    In 1997, the price to restart football (and three other sports) was announced to be $11 million.

    How much work does Cessna need? It's hard to know. 

    Mayan's plan did not appear to touch on the stadium issue much. If Cessna needed $20-plus million just to meet code, one would think that would have been one of the main features of Mayan plan.

    My sense reading the articles is that WSU's leadership over the years has been somewhat against the idea. I suspect the numbers were overblown and the cost of the repairs required may have never been accurate. Certainly, they're probably no longer accurate with improving techniques in stadium repair.

    But a bigger issue may be cultural. Basketball and baseball rule the roost in Wichita. That's unusal and likely has a huge impact in decision making.

    Simply put, in spite of the apparent termination of most student enrollment growth at Wichita State due to the loss of football, the leadership may be more than happy with the status quo because they are baseball and basketball fans.

     

    Quality of candidate (out of five stars)

    One-half star as a football-only member if the leadership at WSU does a half-assed job on Cessna Stadium; 1.5 stars if they join as a football-only member and rebuild Cessna into a very nice 30,000-seat stadium.

    Really, WSU could be an elite team in the WAC...if the Shockers' leadership is ready to finally pay for their first-class ticket.

33) West Texas A&M

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    Why?

    Strong football attendance over a number of seasons...

    A very good football coach...

    A very good stadium situation...

    The state of Texas allows the student body at public schools to vote to pay up to $20 per semester hour in dedicated athletic fees. With an enrollment of under 8,000 students, that would still put WT's athletic budget at the bottom of the FBS ranks, but as UL-Monroe has shown, an FBS school can function at that level.

    As West Texas State, WT used to be a D-I FBS member of the Missouri Valley Conference before the school downgraded all the way to the D-II level.

    WT plays at 20,000-seat Kimbrough Stadium—a pretty cool stadium that looks like it's carved into a hill.  

    Kimbrough would need some luxury boxes and other items added, but that really is just one oilman's contribution away. Really, just find one career oilman who wants to see WT play Texas State, SMU and Rice in Canyon, and WT is on its way. 

    The capacity is perfect for lower-level FBS play, and the fan support is there.

    WT has FCS level assets, but they wisely realized travel at the FBS or FCS level could be brutal for them. The most manageable footprint was in the Division II Lone Star Conference.

    Conferences are realigning today, and Texas schools are upgrading, which may change the math.

    They play men's soccer and participate in equestrian.

    FBS football can be a mechanism for university enrollment growth. That's how Lamar treats it. Football is really, at its core, a lost leader to put a school in front of the eyes of the public. WT has never really looked at the business of football from that perspective.

    First United Bank Center seats 5,800 for basketball.

     

    Hurdles and hindrances

    The WAC of three months ago would have been as good of an FBS home geographically as WT could have hoped for. Today's WAC is more like what the MVC was for WT, but that could change if new schools are added.

    They are the 71st-ranked "regional university" in the West, so basically a peer to Boise State. Despite WT's history as an FBS school, there could be a lot of resistance to WT strictly on academic concerns.

    There's also a question of whether WT's affiliation with the A&M system (a new development that postdates WT's I-A football days) could be a hurdle that prevents them from moving up.

     

    Quality of candidate (out of five stars)

    One-half star

    They are at a fairly good level to maintain their current status, but moving to the FBS level could be used to sell the school and build enrollment as Lamar has done.

    Is there any interest in that? Who can say.  They are worth the call.

34) Abilene Christian University

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    Why?

    Texas has a lot of private schools playing FBS ball. In Texas, that's how you know you have arrived.

    ACU seems to be getting tired of Division II and is now talking to the Southland about joining their Division I FCS conference. There seems to be a desire for upward mobility.

    They are a regional university, but they're somewhat highly ranked in the Western region at No. 17.

    Shotwell Stadium seats 15,000, and with the addition of end-zone berms could easily seat 20,000.

    Their endowment of $266 million is fairly small for a private school at the FBS level but could easily spike if old oil likes the idea of an FBS ACU.

    Although it's not a highly populous area, the region is football crazy with few entertainment options. It's not hard to imagine NMSU, SMU or Texas State vs. ACU selling out a 20,000-seat stadium.

    As a religious private school in Texas, they could probably get the money for facility upgrades and sports adds if they were motivated to play FBS ball. They are affiliated with the Church of Christ.

    Moody Coliseum seats 4,600 for basketball.

     

    Hurdles and hindrances

    While they could fill a stadium, how many luxury box customers are there out there in Abilene? ACU would probably have to be willing to eat an annual loss every year. That might be an acceptable concession for the promotional gain.

    Going from the Lone Star Conference to the WAC would be a major increase in travel costs and time.

    The WAC would need more schools in the region for this to pan out.

    As a candidate, they're still a little small time, but not glaringly so.

     

    Quality of candidate (out of five stars)

    One-half star

    Football rivals ACU and WT joining the WAC together could be a workable solution for both schools and the WAC. Playing in a SW division with Denver, New Mexico State and two more area schools could be very workable financially.

    They would likely be willing to change their sports offerings if they think they can afford FBS membership.

35) Trinity University (TX)

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    Why?

    Academics, prestige and overall athletic excellence.

    Trinity University (the one in Texas) has been the top-ranked regional university in the West for something like 17 years.

    They have an endowment of just under $1 billion and are affiliated with the Presbyterian Church.

    Really, they have a ton in common with Texas FBS universities like SMU, TCU and Baylor. The major difference is they don't grant enough doctorates and masters degrees to be considered a national university, and they don't play FBS football.

    That probably hurts their ability to raise money. An FBS football-playing flagship of the Presbyterian Church playing football in San Antonio could do quite well financially in Texas.

    Trinity is a Division III athletic power in tennis and are strong in women's basketball and men's soccer.  They do play D-III football and Men's soccer.

    The athletic landscape in San Antonio has changed dramatically in the last five years, and Trinity could become an afterthought. UTSA averaged over 50,000 fans per game in their first season, mostly because they were playing FBS football in front of a large city of football starved fans in the Alamodome.

    And UTSA isn't the only threat in San Antonio to Trinity getting exposure.

    Accross the street from Trinity is the rapidly growing University of the Incarnate Word. UIW is another religious university. This one a Catholic university. UIW is using football to spur growth. They have received donations from NFL owner Tom Benson. 

    UIW's football coach is long-time NFL assistant and former London Monarchs head coach Larry Kennan. UIW joined the Division II Lone Star Conference in 2009 and is trying to join the FCS Southland conference today.

    It's not difficult to imagine UIW trying to jump to the FBS level in 15 years if UTSA is the only FBS school in San Antonio.

    And there is TAMU-San Antonio. This is the pet project of the Texas A&M system.  By 2025 the plans call for TAMU-SA to have an enrollment of 25,000. 

    Given that as their enrollment and the contentious nature of relations between UT and A&M, it does not seem that unlikely that they would also play FBS football if UTSA is the only San Antonio school doing so in 2025.  Another local school chipping away at the bottom of UT's roster may make playing in College Station look a little better.

    Where would that leave Trinity in terms of media exposure?  The days of Trinity getting coverage of their D-III sports are coming to a close.

    If Trinity were to jump to FBS in the near future, they could use their stature to steer the FBS donations and discussions in San Antonio. Trinity could potentially turn this into emerging rivalries with Rice, SMU, and Texas State. That would be a pretty good position in media terms.

    The Alamo Dome potentially awaits, and if they want to invest in Alamo Stadium next door to their campus, they could have a site for smaller draws.

     

    Hurdles and hindrances

    They may not be motivated to join. Some schools like being the big fish in a small pond. That has been Trinity in the past.

     

    Quality of candidate (out of 5 stars)

    1.5 stars as an FBS football member; one star as an FCS football member or Olympic sports-only member

    If UTSA can average over 50,000 fans to the Alamo Dome, it seems like Trinity could draw pretty well too, but even joining as an Olympic sports member would be a smart play for Trinity and the WAC.

36) The University of Texas-Pan American

33 of 46

    Why?

    In my opinion, and it is strictly my opinion, the only sales point UTPA has to sell its university is cheap tuition.

    This is a school that appears cheap in everything it does.  I suspect its problems with the NCAA over the years can be tracked to a core issue of running an athletic program on the cheap.  Its athletic budget is under $6 million.

    Texas law allows public universities (with student approval) to have dedicated athletic fees maxing out at $20 per semester hour.   UTPA has an enrollment of 19,034.  The math is very eye-opening.

    If the leadership at the university and the students chose to max out their athletic fee, you could actually see UTPA become a school a conference like the WAC might want to admit. And their tuition would still be among the lowest in the region.

    Having the money to pay and retain a big-name basketball coach could do a lot for UTPA.  Upgrading its arena could really help.  A solid football program and a men's soccer program could also be solid revenue generators for UTPA, but it won't happen without students footing the bill via a maxed-out athletic fee and school admins having some vision.

    The Rio Grande Valley DMA is a rapidly growing one that could have a lot of TV appeal if UTPA can get its act together athletically.

    It plays basketball in 4,000-seat UTPA Fieldhouse.

     

    Hurdles and hindrances

    The perception is that this athletic department is on the verge of financially bleeding its way out of the Division I level in the next 5-10 years...or joining the WAC. 

    With that perception in mind, does the WAC really want to consider this school?  Or would it be smarter to lump them in with Chicago State as another "untouchable?"

    Academically this is an unranked regional university. This means it has been judged even less academically prestigious than Boise State by the US News.  No WAC school will want it as a conference peer unless UTPA brings something serious to the table athletically (a la Boise State).

     

    Quality of candidate (out of 5 stars)

    No stars today. A half star if it dramatically increases athletic funding.

    Considering the length of time UTPA has not been part of a conference with an automatic bid to the NCAA tourney and the instability of the Great West, it is very likely UTPA would consider changing its sports offerings to join the WAC.

37) Lamar University

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    Why?

    Lamar's leadership wants to play FBS ball, and it has a good media argument at the FBS level, acceptable facilities, a strong basketball culture, strong football support (for this level) and plenty of growth potential. 

    Lamar would have sole ownership of a Golden Triangle, an area of 385,000 in a small geographic footprint that could translate into much larger turnouts at the FBS level.

    Its stadium is smaller than you'd like at 16,000, and unlike current member Idaho, it doesn't look like Lamar would have any trouble raising money for expansion.

    It is ranked in the bottom quarter of national universities.

    The 10,080-seat Montagne Center is a very good arena.

     

    Hurdles and hindrances

    One maybe wishes a school named after the father of Texas education was considered an academic school the level of Rice or at least Trinity, but Lamar isn't awful in that regard. 

    It would be nice if Lamar's student body maxed out its athletic fee to allow the university to reach its full athletic potential quicker. (Personally, I would make that a condition of admission.)

    Travel is probably not quite as easy as other candidates, but it is still easier than travel to Ruston or Moscow, Idaho.

     

    Quality of candidate (out of 5 stars)

    Two stars.

    Lamar is ready to go and has some media relevance. I could easily see Lamar drawing 25,000 per game in football and 6,000 per game in basketball and climbing into the top three-quarters of national universities after 10 years at the FBS level in the WAC.

    Not adding Lamar last year was a major goof for the WAC.  Not adding them this year would be as well.

38) Sam Houston State

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    Why?

    Sam Houston State projects well as an FBS member.

    They are in the Houston DMA, which is great.

    They were regularly mentioned by Karl Benson when he was the WAC commissioner as a candidate.  Benson has continued to openly speak of Sam Houston as an FBS candidate now that he is the Sunbelt commissioner.

    This seems to imply that the leadership at SAM is quietly looking into an FBS upgrade.

    On the football field Sam Houston State is annually a strong team.  They lost the 2011 national championship game.  In basketball, SAM had a great run of success under former coach Bob Marlin in the last decade.  They have a strong athletic resume.

    The Bearkat's Bowers Stadium seats 14,000.  It is really a nice stadium for the FCS level.  Some decisions would need to be made to prepare if for FBS play.  Do they remove the track and do a dig down?  That could yield a capacity of around 22,000 without a huge expense.

    Their 6100-seat basketball arena, Johnson Coliseum, is acceptable for WAC-level play.

    SHSU is ranked in the bottom quarter of national universities.

     

    Hurdles and hindrances

    The elephant in the room with regards to Sam Houston State is their level of fan support.  They do not draw well in spite of having strong teams. For example, on their way to the NCAA FCS title game they averaged 8083 fans per home football game.  That total didn't crack the top 30 at the FCS level and would have been good for 10th place at the Division II level.

    Many WAC fans see Huntsville as a small FCS appropriate town. Those fans feel SHSU's lack of support will persist should the school join the WAC.

    I am of of the opinion that this is almost entirely a byproduct of FCS level play in a major DMA. Play at that level simply isn't newsworthy enough to draw large crowds in cities that have other entertainment options. (FCS sports are entertainment more appropriate for smaller cites and towns.)

    I believe they would get much better turnouts at the FBS level, in part because they would not face the intense competition for support that schools like Rice and Houston face from Houston's pro teams (both of those universities are within a couple of miles of the NFL Texans and the Houston Rockets.  They have to compete with both pro teams for the public's ticket dollars.)  

    Huntsville is a short drive from a lot of Houston's Northwestern suburbs.  SHSU would stand a pretty good chance of pulling a larger audience from those communities at the FBS level.

    Plus, a lot of FBS schools in the area would love to play another game in front of Houston area recruits.   Replacing a home schedule filled with Southland schools like SE Louisiana, Central Arkansas, & Nicholls State with schools like Louisiana Tech, Rice, Houston, Texas State, & UTSA should help a lot.

    Their facilities are considered subpar for an FBS candidate by a lot of fans.  The WAC membership really shouldn't let that prevent them from considering SHSU.

    There is also a question of interest.  Hard core SHSU fans report that SHSU's leadership see moving to the FBS as something circumstances may force them to do, not as something they want to do.

     

    Quality of candidate (out of 5 stars)

    Two stars.

    When you look at SHSU as a Houston area school that could regularly draw ~15,000 fans per game at the FBS level due to a better home schedule and distance from the Rockets and Oilers, adding Sam Houston State seems to be a pretty good value for the WAC.

39) University of Texas at Dallas

36 of 46

    Why?

    Didn't the WAC already try adding a DFW-based UT school?

    There are reasons to consider Division III UT Dallas.

    UTD has an enrollment just shy of 19,000.

    Academically UTD is one of the better candidates the WAC might consider.  It is ranked No. 143 among national universities.

    Their endowment of $270 million is pretty good for a public school (public and private endowments are best evaluated on totally different scales).

    UTD appears to be the "project school" in the UT system.  If you follow the money, this appears to be the school power brokers in the UT system want to become the first "Tier 1" research university in the DFW metroplex.  Well, that plan just lost some steam to their local competition, the University of North Texas and the University of Texas at Arlington.

    Athletics is promotion and it feeds donations of all types.  UNT is now going to host the likes of East Carolina, Rice, Louisiana Tech, UTSA, UTEP and others in their brand new stadium.  UTA was going to move their basketball into a good basketball conference, but has taken a step back to the Sun Belt (which is really just the Southland with sprinkles).

    UTD joining the WAC as a I-AA member would make a lot of sense for both parties.  DFW is a recruiting hotbed and a great TV market.  The WAC is a well-known conference and a respected one in basketball.

    If UTD didn't play football, it could spend its effort and money becoming the dominant area school in sports like men's soccer and basketball. It could add snooty sports that might make them unique in the area, draw big money, and appeal to WAC members like lacrosse and equestrian.  All of that helps the WAC and UTD.

    The UTD activity center seats 3,200.  That is acceptable for UTD in the WAC today.  UTD constantly seems to have money on hand for expansion as well.

     

    Hurdles and hindrances

    Is UTD ready for the big time or is its athletic department still a powerless lump under the direction of its department of student affairs?   That would have to change.  That is fine for Division III, but won't cut it in an FBS conference and doesn't imply a peer to any WAC members. If UTD has changed that, this candidate could make sense.

    UTD isn't a big fish in a small pond. Like Montana, it is a flounder lying in a water puddle.

    UTD's enrollment is almost four times that of its next largest conference mate.  The fact UTD wins at the D-III level is really a foregone conclusion.  It doesn't excite alumni.  It doesn't generate donations. It is time for UTD to stop using its greater resources to bully the competition at the D-III level.

    And financially stepping up makes sense.  Does UTD see the ground it will soon be losing in collecting donations in DFW?

     

    Quality of candidate (out of 5 stars)

    1 to 1.5 stars if it gets tired of being the neighborhood bully in D-III.

40) University of Central Oklahoma

37 of 46

    Why?

    Mostly geography and demographics.

    I look at the University of Central Oklahoma and see the University of North Texas circa 1995. There are a lot of similarities and similar problems in mining UCO's athletic potential. 

    Both are considered "music schools" with notable appreciations for environmental issues.  Both are located in at least good media markets (UNT in Dallas-Fort Worth, UCO in Oklahoma City).  Both are overshadowed by other local universities. 

    UNT got its athletic act together under the leadership of one of the elite athletic directors in the country in Rick Villareal.  It isn't out of the question that UCO could follow a similar path.

    UCO has an enrollment of 17,000, and it plays D-II football. The bones are there.

    But Wantland Stadium seats only 10,000. 

    To play FBS football, it would definitely need luxury boxes to pull corporate money from Oklahoma City and would probably need to build up the eastern grandstand to match the western side, in addition to adding a berm in the northern end zone to hit the sweet spot of 20,000 capacity.

    Surprisingly, there is a small chance that might not be all that expensive.  Given what is there, it appears potentially possible temporary seating could be used in the north and the east to yield a workable stadium in short order.

    The starting point and end goal for such a project would be somewhat similar to the those of the expansion of Saputo Stadium in Montreal in 2008.  That expansion put in lights, two grandstands and over 13,000 chair-backed seats and only cost $18 million—a relative bargain in stadium construction. Still, maybe that kind of lightweight and inexpensive structure would be too optimistically employ in tornado country.

    UCO playing FCS football is a possibility, too.

    The Oklahoma City DMA could be a fairly nice addition.

    Hamilton Field House is UCO's on-campus basketball arena.  It seats 3,000.

     

    Hurdles and hindrances

    Is there an interest?

    UCO is a mid-to-low ranked western regional university (No. 81, according to U.S. News & World Report), so like peers Boise State, UVU and UTPA, it would have to get its athletic house in order to have any appeal to the WAC.

    Its athletic facilities need more capacity, and the money likely is not there.

     

    Quality of candidate (out of 5 stars)

    A half-star as an FCS or Olympic-only member.

    Unless a Boone Pickens-wannabe emerges to take UCO under his wing and fund major facility improvements, an FBS future is years down the road.

    UCO would be a number and an investment in tomorrow for the WAC. 

41) Oral Roberts University

38 of 46

    Why?

    Basketball.

    Tulsa is a fairly big city and a solid DMA.  It is too small for NBA basketball, so without pro competition, ORU and Tulsa draw strong crowds in basketball.

    ORU has consistently been a strong team in men's and women's basketball for years.  ORU basketball would help the WAC.  ORU also has a strong volleyball program and plays men's soccer.

    Oral Roberts booster Mart Green and his family seem like sincere Christians dedicated to steering this religious university out of the wilderness.  If a few more sports like equestrian and lacrosse were needed to grease the Golden Eagles' path into a strong basketball conference with good academics like the WAC, it seems as though ORU could raise the money.

    The Mabee Center seats 10,575 for basketball.

     

    Hurdles and hindrances

    ORU is ranked 53rd among regional universities in the West by U.S. News & World Report.  I think that is likely to change for the better with more serious-minded leadership in place, but schools are judged by where they stand today. 

    While that is better than Boise State, there are schools in the WAC that may be unreceptive to the idea of inviting ORU.

     

    Quality of candidate (out of 5 stars)

    One to 1.5 stars.

42) University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee

39 of 46

    Why?

    Basketball, men's soccer and the potential for FBS football.

    The University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee has a strong basketball program as well as a strong men's soccer program, but this candidacy is all about FBS football.

    For a city the size of Milwaukee not to have an NFL team or an FBS team is just ridiculous. 

    UWM has looked into the viability of football in the recent past.  These are the important clues.  Schools do not just throw money at studies for sports that their leaderships are not considering.  That suggests the that the leadership of UWM might be toying with the idea.

    There seems to be enough out there to imply that either that agreement is no longer in place or it may be overstated.

    The school is certainly large enough to support an FBS program successfully, with over 30,000 student enrolled.

    There is no pro or FBS football competition based in the city.

    There appears to be space to build an on-campus stadium should it go that route, but that would, of course, be very expensive and as such very, very unlikely today.

    They just hired a new athletic director, one who used to be the AD at Ohio State.

    If Wisconsin-Milwaukee could talk its way into playing its games at the Brewers' 41,900-seat Miller Park, I think you could see a major FBS startup success story, similar to the ones at UCF and UTSA.

    The UFL expressed an interest in playing football at Miller Park.  The executive director of the Miller Park Stadium district confirmed a football field would fit in the ballpark.

    That seemed to imply that the MPSD is open to the idea of football.  (At least spring football...and that may be an important distinction.)

    Would the Brewers allow UWM to play four to six home games a year in Miller Park?  There is a line of thinking that the Brewers, who are insanely protective of their playing surface, would absolutely fight the idea.

    However, if the WAC publicly offers and UWM publicly wants it, are the Brewers willing to be the bad guys who kill the idea after a lengthy and contentious public debate?

    The capacity being limited to 41,900 could effectively cap UWM at a level that is acceptable to both pro organizations.  The stadium's tiered nature could allow UWM to close off the top deck to further cut capacity early on.

    If UWM has access to the ballpark, the finances are not that daunting, and the other elements to succeed are there.

    Getting a foot in the door to the FBS world might very well be worth jumping conferences to do it. Having a promising candidate that is also very good in basketball should make it a worthwhile add for the WAC.

    UWM recently moved its basketball games back to the on-campus, 3,500-seat Klotsche Center, but there is talk of building a larger, more suitable arena on campus.

    The school plays men's soccer.

    UWM is classified by U.S. News & World Report as a national university, but is in the unranked bottom quarter.


    Hurdles and hindrances

    Is the desire there?  Would the Brewers try to block the university if it got that far?

    Would UWM consider the WAC?  The WAC would have to be a lot further along rebuilding than it is today.  It would probably have to expand its footprint further into the Midwest (the Dakotas, Nebraska, Kansas, etc.) for this to become appealing.

    Some baseball parks are very strong homes for football.  Miller Park would not be that strong of a home due to the layout of the field. 

    Still, given the nature of football fans in the area, an average turnout north of 30,000 per game at Miller Park would not surprise me, if the games were promoted properly.


    Quality of candidate (out of 5 stars)

    One star without football, 1.5 to two stars with football. 

    While there is no guarantee any Horizon school has an interest in the WAC, in theory and if the stability issues in the WAC are addressed first, this is the kind of raid which should be possible.  With the loss of Butler, the Horizon is once more just another a one-bid I-AAA league.

    Playing in a league with FBS football is higher profile than playing in a one-bid I-AAA league.  There could and probably would be more money in the a 12-plus member WAC.

    I could see a FBS success story at UWM. 

43) University of Illinois at Chicago

40 of 46

    Why?

    An expanded WAC could be a better conference home for the University of Illinois at Chicago.  The Horizon is a very solid league, but really it is just a basketball MAC—by that I mean the exposure is limited to the local region.  It has a bit of a "bus league" stigma.

    Promoting a university—getting a university's name in front of future students and their parents—is the real bottom line of college athletics to universities.

    There are a lot of scenarios in which the WAC could turn into a 16-plus member superconference stretching from the West Coast to Illinois and beyond.  Being the only Chicago school in that conference could deliver a lot more exposure to UIC than staying in the Horizon.

    That can only help with recruiting.  Chicago is a great recruiting ground for basketball.

    There is no visible FBS pulse at any Chicago school, so football in the near future is an afterthought in this discussion, but UIC has the enrollment to wash FBS costs if it becomes interested in playing FBS football. UIC has an enrollment of 27,580—quite a lot for a public school. And UIC is less than three miles from Soldier Field.

    Additionally, the area really has only Notre Dame, Northwestern and Northern Illinois. There is room for college football programs in Milwaukee and central Chicago. Having an FBS ticket in hand could be seen as quite valuable by UIC.

    If UIC has an unstated interest in playing football that it didn't think was viable before (FCS football is a financial loser, and in general the publicity gain doesn't merit the costs. FBS football is by invitation only.), this kind of move would be a smart investment in the future.

    UIC Pavilion seats just under 7,000.  As it is based in Chicago, the United States' third largest DMA, the Pavilion could be a potential home for a WAC basketball tourney.  That could be another sales pitch to run in front of UIC.

    It plays men's soccer, and it is ranked No. 150 under the U.S. News & World Report rankings.

     

    Hurdles and hindrances

    Does UIC see the potential?

    Does the WAC membership?

     

    Quality of candidate (out of 5 stars)

    I'd say 1.5 stars without football. Two stars with it.

    It is not hard to imagine UIC basketball taking off in the WAC. 

    While UIC football would almost certainly not be a smash hit at the ticket gate (a la UTSA football), the proximity of Soldier Field, the population in Chicago, the number of UIC alumni (and its potential TV value in the Chicago DMA) and the lack of FBS competition could make for a football program with WAC-level turnouts in short order. 

    If UIC has an interest in playing football.

44) Loyola University Chicago

41 of 46

    Why?

    Loyola University (Illinois) has an enrollment of 15,670, which is large for a private university.

    They haven't exactly been great in the Horizon.  They could be very tempted with a WAC offer to be UWM's travel partner and the only WAC school in the Chicagoland area.

    Gentile Arena seats 4,486 fans.

    Joining what might be as much as an 18-team superconference, including the L.A. and Dallas markets, could be very appealing.  The rebuilt WAC could easily be just as strong of a basketball conference as today's Horizon as well as very strong academically.

    If the WAC continues to sponsor FBS football and lands more good markets, the money and exposure could be a lot better than it is in the Horizon.  Those are the goals and motivations behind collegiate athletics at the Division I level.

    For a private university, exposure may be even more important than it is to a public university.

    They play men's soccer.

    Academically, Loyola (IL) is a strong candidate, ranked 119th on U.S. News & World Report's national-university list. 

     

    Hurdles and hindrances

    Is the desire there?

    Football is probably not viable at Loyola Chicago. 

     

    Quality of candidate (out of 5 stars)

    LUC gets 1.5 stars.

45) Northern Illinois University

42 of 46

    Why?

    Admittedly, this one is a big stretch, especially based on where the WAC is today.

    While Northern Illinois would probably never leave the MAC for the WAC long-term, it is possible that, given the fact the MAC and WAC currently share a bowl, the MAC may see a benefit in helping the WAC survive.

    In terms of branding, a similarly sized WAC just to the west of the MAC footprint could provide some unintended validation of the MAC business model that isn't there today.  The WAC could be a great partner for the MAC, ala the Pac-12 and Big 10.

    Certainly WAC schools would have to display some maturity and survival instinct to expect any request from the MAC to get anything but a deaf ear, but in the right circumstance...say the WAC was short only one FBS school or the WAC needed a school for football scheduling...I could see a temporary western move by Northern Illinois.  There is potentially value there for all parties.

    Should the WAC rebuild with FCS schools, in the next five years it might be a very easy conference for Northern Illinois to dominate. Dominance can fuel recruiting.  (It did at Boise.)

    The WAC would need to make it financially workable.  NIU would likely be a football-only invite.  An all-sports invite might require that the WAC temporarily provide an acceptable Olympic member to balance MAC membership short-term.  That may be pushing a long shot into an impossible proposition.

    Remember, the MAC has 13 football members.

    NIU plays Men's soccer.

    Northern Illinois is a "National University," according to U.S. News & World Report, and it is ranked in the top 75 percent of that category, at No. 194.

     

    Hurdles and hindrances

    Obviously, the MAC might simply not be interested in helping the WAC, and Northern Illinois might not either.

     

    Quality of candidate (out of 5 stars)

    One star—they would be a great loaner.

46) Northern Kentucky University

43 of 46

    Why?

    Over 15,000 students.  

    Located in a strong basketball region. 

    In a good sized DMA with no NBA competition (Cincinnati DMA).  

    Victor E. Viking and his Northern Kentucky Norse have the look of a I-AAA member that could carry its own weight in the WAC.

    NKU's 9,400-seat, on-campus arena, the Bank of Kentucky Center, was completed in 2008.

    NKU is a former Division II power, moving to the Division I Atlantic Sun Conference this fall.  The 10-member Atlantic Sun Conference is not an ideal conference geographically for a Cincinnati-based university, either.

    NKU plays men's soccer.  NKU has had noteworthy success in men's and women's basketball, soccer, and in softball.

     

    Hurdles and hindrances

    U.S. News & World Report ranks UNK as the 71st "Regional University" in the south.  That could be very difficult to get approved.

     

    Quality of candidate (out of 5 stars)

    One star.

47) Eastern Kentucky University

44 of 46

    Why?

    Eastern Kentucky is an historic FCS football power, having won two national titles and having amassed a .611 winning percentage. They play in the 22,000-seat Roy Kidd Stadium.

    They have seen former rival Western Kentucky jump to the Sun Belt. FBS is by invite only, and it seems unlikely the Sun Belt will offer EKU a slot.

    The idea that EKU's rival WKU has moved ahead of the Colonels—perhaps for good—has to bother some folks in Richmond.

    What would happen if the Hurd put in an appearance at EKU—effectively waiving an FBS invite out there in front of Eastern Kentucky boosters?

    Alumni coliseum seats 6,300.  EKU is in a great region for basketball.

     

    Hurdles and hindrances

    EKU is a "Regional University" ranked 63rd in its region by U.S. News & World Report.  That and geography could make securing enough WAC votes challenging.

    Although its stadium has WAC-level capacity, it still needs as much work as any of the other FCS stadiums on this list.  It is really just a skeleton of a nice stadium. 

    The western grandstand is huge but needs a lot of chairbacked seats to be viable at the next level.  The press-box and luxury-box areas are effectively nonexistent.  Even at a rural university that would have to be changed.

    The eastern grandstand is tiny.  Optimally it would be ripped out and replaced with a much taller grandstand that seats at least 12,000.  That would bring capacity to about 30,000, but, really, that change would be all about improving the stadium as a game-day site.

    That isn't immediate money, but it is a needed investment if EKU would hope to prosper at the FBS level.

     

    Quality of candidate (out of 5 stars)

    EKU gets 0.5 stars.

    Adding Northern and Eastern Kentucky as travel partners could be a workable play if other schools in the Great Lakes region are invited, too.

48) Jacksonville State University

45 of 46

    Why?

    Jacksonville State wants to become the sixth FBS school in Alabama.  Fate has dealt Jacksonville State a bad hand in the Gamecocks' efforts to achieve this goal.

    JSU's local FBS gateway conference, the Sun Belt, has a very suitable footprint for the school.  The Sun Belt unfortunately already has Troy and South Alabama among its members, though, and it recently also admitted Atlanta-based Georgia State.

    It is highly likely these schools will work together to prevent JSU from ever getting a Sun Belt invite due to territorial concerns.

    Jacksonville State has strong local support for football.  They have a 24,000-seat, FBS- and WAC-level stadium and good media arangements.

    JSU is in the Birmingham DMA, but is effectively halfway between Birmingham and Atlanta, so the school could prove to be a very valuable commodity at the FBS level for a conference not native to the area.

    The WAC may be the only FBS offer that comes JSU's way in the next 20 years. If offered, I firmly believe Jacksonville State would take a WAC invitation, be it a football-only or all-sports invite.  Their football coach said as much in a recent article.

    JSU advanced its FBS intentions last year, and no FBS conference invited them.

    Members of Jacksonville's leadership probably realize that a WAC offer could be the only shot they get at achieving the goal of FBS membership during their tenure.

    If Jacksonville State joins the WACm and the WAC fails, Jacksonville State would likely be fine with playing football as an FBS football independent until the Sun Belt eventually calls. (The Sun Belt's passing on JSU makes sense to keep the Gamecocks out of the FBS.  If JSU is in the FBS, the math changes.  JSU is almost certainly going to average 20,000-plus per game at the FBS level.  It would probably make a lot more sense for the Sun Belt to consider adding JSU at that point.)

    If JSU moves to the WAC, there are plenty of conferences that would take JSU Olympic sports now or in a few years and plenty of FBS schools nearby which would play them in football.

     

    Hurdles and hindrances

    Travel would be rough for JSU unless WAC membership exceeded 12 schools. Still, other FBS upgrades have dealt with similar issues, and their programs have survived transition.

    JSU is ranked 85th in the South, according to U.S. News & World Report.  The school's academic profile would not be seen as a positive by the voting WAC members.

     

    Quality of candidate (out of 5 stars)

    Jacksonville State gets 1.5 stars.

    I could easily see JSU drawing 22,000 per game in football at the FBS level.  The Gamecocks would also have some decent TV value.

    From a WAC perspective, if the eastern-division strategy doesn't work out, one trip to the east isn't going to kill Idaho and NMSU.  They have already endured years of traveling to Louisiana Tech and years as members of the Sun Belt.

    JSU would just be one more FBS game on NMSU's and Idaho's schedules from 2014 forward.

    Jacksonville State in the WAC could probably be a short-term move that would help the WAC and the Gamecocks for the next few years.

Names Left off the List

46 of 46

    I have left some other well-discussed universities off of the list.  Many are small-market schools and as such have little appeal to Division I conferences.

    Here is why:

     

    Western Washington

    Western Washington is a larger school beating up smaller-budget programs at the D-II/non-football level (e.g. UT Dallas).

    Unlike UTD, it isn't especially prestigious academically. Western Washington is the 22nd-ranked regional university in the western United States.  While that is higher than middle rung, it is the less prestigious category.  

    Additionally, a strong argument can be made that, with Seattle already in the WAC, the WAC doesn't need to add Western Washington's fanbase to get a good audience in the Seattle DMA.

     

    University of Colorado-Colorado Springs

    The University of Colorado-Colorado Springs may be a growing university, but as a public university with an enrollment of fewer than 10,000 students it projects as an I-AAA WAC member at best today.

    It has a small alumni base. As a middle-of-the-pack regional university (No. 39 in the West) in a very middling media market, UCCS is not a strong candidate today.

     

    Dixie State University (Utah)

    Dixie State would probably have to decide if it wanted to drop its D-II football program in order to afford playing in the WAC.

    It is a small-enrollment school and ranked in the bottom quarter of regional universities in the West. The school's enrollment would open major questions about the pecking order of the WAC and Big Sky, due to the Big Sky's having a local peer which is clearly better in Southern Utah University. 

     

    Montana State University-Billings

    The same can be said of Montana State University-Billings (No. 83 regional university in the West). MSU-Billings does not play football, so it would be an easier transition, but the school's inclusion sends a bad message if the WAC can't land the obviously better Montana and Montana State.

     

    Youngstown State

    Finally, Youngstown State is a good FBS candidate if the WAC footprint ends up stretching to the Great Lakes region, but you have to draw the line somewhere in writing these lists, so I left them off due to geography.

    While Youngstown State has a very successful FCS football program, it also has a few attributes that would hurt its candidacy. 

    As the 110th-ranked regional university in the Midwest, YSU has an academic profile that might actually be worse than Boise State's.

    That could be a real issue with getting the votes to get into the WAC.

     

    All academic rankings come courtesy of U.S. News & World Report.

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