In my last article I promised potential solutions for the WAC if Idaho and New Mexico State stopped further destabilizing the conference. I promised better options if they took the first step and made a reasonable commitment to their conference mates.
I suggested a very effective first step to creating the required stability to save the conference would be if the conference members voted to institute a 3 years advanced notice on departures.
Idaho and NMSU are the key to this situation. I realize the leadership at both universities are used to being faceless pawns in a conference, but this is their moment.
They are now the UT and OU of the WAC.
The WAC is being headed by a first time commissioner with no skins on the wall in Jeff Hurd. It is far too much to ask of him to land quality new members when there is not only no commitment from Idaho or NMSU, but rather public statements that they are looking for ways out.
It is time for the leadership at both schools to grow up a little on their view of the WAC.
It may not be the conference they want to be in, but it is not like being in the WAC is inherently bad for them.
It is time for Idaho and NMSU to step up and own this opportunity. They need to start thinking differently as athletic programs.
Or they can continue to be the wallflower who only gets an invite when a conference corrodes to a point that the duo start looking acceptable.
Think about it. The last two invitations to join conferences they received had a fair stink of desperation on them.
A rebuilt WAC can really help both programs develop and look more attractive.
In addition to positioning benefits, there are several financial reasons for Idaho and NMSU to stay. First of all leaving the WAC amounts to leaving a fair bit of money behind.
Idaho and NMSU are still collecting Fresno State and Nevada-Reno's 'stab the WAC in the back' payoffs. If they leave, those are gone. Their share of the WAC NCAA basketball units would be surrendered. Those payouts are becoming quite concentrated with the defections.
Why not soak those up for the next three years?
Really, what is the hurry? TV hooks and NCAA rules make the MWC/CUSA merger unlikely to happen for the next three to five years, if ever. Those conferences are not going to be rushing to grab any more Sunbelt schools unless Old Dominion flakes out on them. Adding more FCS & I-AAA upgrades would also be tough for them --- there are only so many bad schools you want in your conference at any time.
Plus the Big 12 is looking at potentially raiding the ACC for one to four southern schools, creating another domino drop in realignment. (The Chairman of the Florida State Board of Trustees just made news on that front...)
There will be plenty of opportunities to go in the future... if you upgrade your programs. Why leave now, when you are at your lowest?
Now is not the time for panicked butt-covering and ill-advised escape plans. Now is the time to help your commissioner land the best members possible.
For Hurd to land any schools of note, he needs something that shows a serious commitment by your schools to rebuild the conference.
Frankly, staying in the WAC rather than downgrading conferences is going to make your boosters slightly nervous. That is actually really valuable. It is a wake up call for them to support your programs.
Hanging around will make your appeals for stadium upgrade money have far more sway with your boosters and state legislators than you would have joining a comfortable lesser home.
(Nobody gives money to FCS schools, Idaho.)
This is an opportunity. This can put a spotlight on the financial needs strangling the vitality of your programs.
If WAC expansion works, you could have a great, somewhat geographically sensible home that is tailor made for your desires and maximizes your TV potential.
If it does not, you can still position your schools specifically far better than they are today.
I do not know how to be more blunt about this, but the WAC can and will survive this unless the leadership Idaho and NMSU continue to be Fresno State and Nevada-Reno-level, self-centered traitors.
Denver, Seattle, and like-minded fans of Idaho and NMSU need to continue to pelt the leadership at the two FBS schools with letters demanding they think clearly about the potential in front of them before jumping to a substandard league like the Sunbelt or Big Sky Conferences.
With the bottom line laid out, here are five likely paths away from oblivion naming reasonable candidates the WAC could take.*
* If the WAC has solidarity, they can obviously quickly add schools to satisfy the requirements to retain their NCAA tournament automatic bid. In that, it appears the survival of the conference itself should be fairly easy to achieve.
The issue is the number of football playing schools. Ramping up to FBS football takes time. The WAC only has a two-year grace period to acquire the minimum eight football playing, all-sports members required to retain their FBS status with full privileges.
In this editorial, I have assumed the NCAA will grant a waiver if by 2014 the WAC has enough of its new member schools in the process of upgrading to FBS or at least committed to beginning the upgrade process by then, but not enough actually playing football at the FBS level.
This is not going out on a huge limb. The NCAA did something like that with the Sunbelt Conference in a similar situation a few years ago. Certainly there is no reason to believe the NCAA would interfere with the WAC's ability to promote schools, if the conference members display a sincere desire to rebuild.
In a worst case scenario, a rebuilding WAC may have a couple years where they are not classified as an FBS conference.