College Football Realignment: What the Demise of the WAC Means for the Game
After a desperate struggle for survival, the WAC sadly passed away as Utah State and San Jose State both announced today that they would join the MWC in 2013.
Yes, there's still some teams left in the Western Athletic Conference, and they still have one more season to play. But now that these two teams are leaving, along with the exodus of La Tech and UT San Antonio to C-USA and Texas State to the Sun Belt, the only two football-playing members of the conference are Idaho and New Mexico State.
And it's only a matter of time before those two remaining teams also find a new home.
So, for all intents and purposes, the WAC is a dead conference walking.
What happened to this once thriving conference that has sent two teams to BCS bowls and even had a team win the national championship back in the 80s?
College football conference realignment happened. But not just recent conference realignment.
Back in the 80's, the WAC was BYU plus a few other teams. Arizona and Arizona State had already been picked up to form the then-new Pac-10, and the rest of the conference benefited from BYU's 1984 national championship and overall national notoriety.
Then in the 90s, the WAC decided to experiment with a 16-team super-conference.
And it failed miserably.
You had 16 teams that ranged from Hawaii all the way out to Rice. The big time programs in the WAC, namely BYU and Utah, weren't pleased with having to increase their travel costs to play mediocre teams like UTEP and Rice. The Cougars and Utes, along with several of the original WAC teams, split off from the WAC and formed the new Mountain West Conference.
And shortly after the MWC was formed, several of their eastern schools also defected to join C-USA. However, the WAC managed to survive by picking up new teams like Nevada, Louisiana Tech and Idaho.
Most notably, they picked up a then-unknown team named Boise State in 2001.
The Broncos put the WAC back on the map after shocking Oklahoma in the 2007 Fiesta Bowls in one of the most thrilling BCS games ever. The Broncos also won the 2010 Fiesta Bowl against TCU. Hawaii managed to make it to the 2008 Sugar Bowl, but things didn't go so well against Georgia.
All in all, the WAC seemed to be doing just fine.
Then, all of the sudden it all just came apart.
Boise State, frustrated with going undefeated multiple times yet not being allowed to play for the national championship, decided to leave the WAC behind and join the MWC. There, the Broncos figured that they'd get easier BCS access with BYU, TCU and Utah improving Boise State's strength of schedule.
Losing Boise State was a heavy blow but not yet a knockout punch. In fact, there was some hope for the WAC when BYU decided to go independent starting in 2011 and place the rest of their sports in the conference.
The MWC, desperate to get BYU to stay after Utah had accepted an invitation to the Pac-12, decided to try to impede BYU's plans by destroying the WAC. All the MWC had to do was extend invitations to Fresno State and Nevada, which both programs quickly accepted.
Ever since then, the WAC has been a dying conference.
Shortly after Fresno State and Nevada announced their defections effective in 2012, Hawaii also joined the MWC as a football-only member. The WAC, in a last-gasp attempt to survive, picked up UT San Antonio and Texas State as football members along with teams like Denver that don't have a football program.
Finally, when longtime WAC Commissioner Karl Benson left to take the same job for the Sun Belt, the writing was on the wall.
Now, there are two only teams that are currently slated to be in the WAC after this season. Expect that number to go to zero before too long.
So, what is the aftermath of the WAC's demise, and why should we care that the WAC is gone?
First off, the MWC has become the new WAC. Most of the teams that used to make up the old WAC, including Fresno State, Nevada and Hawaii, are now part of the MWC. However, unlike the old WAC, this conference doesn't have a powerhouse like BYU back in their prime now that TCU is part of the Big 12, and Boise State and SDSU are joining the Big East after this season.
The only thing that will keep the MWC alive is that a lot of the programs in this conference have nowhere else to turn. Sure, there will be a decent basketball conference with New Mexico and UNLV leading the way, but I don't see the MWC becoming a major player on the national college football stage.
That ship has sailed.
But really, the conference that should pay the most attention to the death of the WAC is the Big East. The Big East is right where the WAC was back in the 1990's. They've put together an insanely huge conference that spans from San Diego to South Florida to Connecticut.
If that's not unwieldy, I don't know what is.
And with the Big 12, ACC and Big Ten circling around the conference like vultures waiting to pick up the best remaining programs, it may be only a matter of time before the Big East shares the same fate as the WAC.
As George Santayana famously observed, "Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it."
Will the Big East Suffer the Same Fate as the WAC?
Apparently, the WAC's fate seems to be the Big East's doom if they don't do something to change that and quickly.
Really, the WAC's untimely death should be a lesson to all conferences about getting too big geographically and hoping for more TV money by expanding into new markets. There's no guarantee that more teams lead to more money, particularly when each of the members have to pay more to travel to new and increasingly far-flung areas of the country.
And in addition, college football should be about the fans. How many Boise State fans have the budget to travel to San Diego, Miami, Houston and Rutgers? And how many UConn fans are going to be able to travel to SMU, Boise and South Florida?
All of this is bad for college football, and it's about time the bigwigs running this sport into the ground recognized that.
In the meantime, all we can do is pause for a moment of silence as the WAC dies and hope for the best for college football going forward.
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