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.
Would the Montanas be good partners in rebuilding the WAC, or ar they the hot girl who takes your money and leaves you penniless?
The refusal to add Lamar seemed to be a waiting game the WAC was playing with the Montanas.
As the WAC sat one shy of the minimum number of football playing all-sport members, Lamar was considered and then publicly rejected as a school slightly below WAC standards.
The obvious follow up question was, "What schools meet those standards?"
One apparent answer was the University of Montana. The WAC pursued Montana very aggressively under Benson. Montana's AD wrote an amazingly candid letter spelling out his opinion that remaining at the FCS ranks was unviable long term.
The WAC seemed hopeful as Montana's brand new president went into a meeting with the state of Montana Board of Regents to discuss WAC membership. He came out sheepishly saying in a video interview that Montana had decided to stay in the FCS with in-state Rival Montana State. BOR members publicly praised Montana's president at the time for the decision.
There was a lot of speculation that UM's president ran into opposition from the Montana Board of Regents who would prefer to have both schools in the same conference and so he decided not to spend his limited political capital fighting that fight.
Both Montana schools appear to be upgrading facilities as if they are preparing to move up to FBS, but they appear unmotivated to help the WAC by speeding up their multi-year preparation plan.
Stability & travel costs in 'the WAC that almost was' were added noted concerns.
The soon to be Texas-less WAC has lost trips to California, Louisiana, and soon Texas.
Help from the (Big) Sky
If the Montana schools wanted reasonable travel, now would be the time to join.
The problem is that still only yields four football playing schools and NMSU would still be a flight risk.
With the Montana schools gone, it could force the issue with a school like Portland State, but would it? Does their leadership see it that way? They have an ideal facility for WAC level FBS football in an NFL sized city that does not care about FCS level football.
Sacramento State's leadership lacks the political courage to upgrade at a time when all California schools are going through budget cuts.
Cal Poly's president appears to really believe in an FBS future, but Cal Poly is also thinking years down the road due to the state's budget issues.
UC Davis may recognize and upgrade to FBS will eventually have to happen at their school, but they are not true believers like Cal Poly and appear unlikely to seriously consider upgrading until Cal Poly does.
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.
(I do acknowledge some of these schools ---specifically Weber State --- have substandard attendance and there is a rule about that. I am specifically ignoring the NCAA's attendance minimums for upgrading, as the NCAA has never chosen to enforce any of their minimum attendance rules.)
If there is not a mass exodus from the Big Sky, the University of Northern Arizona is not going to feel a need to jump to the WAC. They know they do not have the facilities.
Help from outside the Big Sky?
Now maybe the WAC could get Utah Valley University to start up football. They are rumored to have been squirreling away 1.5 million dollars plus 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.
They would need to build a stadium, 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 BYU stadium.
BYU losing fans to UVU would be like the Dallas Cowboys losing fans to UT Arlington --- not an issue. There is no financial downside to letting UVU pay rent 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.
There could be surprising support at BYU to help out.
Or maybe UVU could build a temporary stadium. This is unheard of in the US, 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.
That gets your to five and from there you run out of momentum.
Maybe you could lure in North Dakota State from the FCS Missouri Valley Football Conferenece and the I-AAA Summit League, but that is no guarantee as in many ways they are in more stable conferences with better options right now.
At that point adding the Montana schools might work against both the WAC and Idaho and New Mexico State's MWC candidacy. The Montana schools may look at the WAC as a way station on their way to the MWC and may fight expansion. With their superior attendance, they may quickly surpass both Idaho and NMSU as candidates for the MWC.
Basically, the WAC has too many berths to fill. A mass exodus from the Big Sky could have happened if the Montana schools jumped a year ago as the WAC would clearly only have 3 remaining FBS slots to reach 12 --- possibly for quite a while.
I think the opposite would happen if the Montana schools would jump today. I think the schools would look at the WAC and think in short order after jumping to the FBS level, the Montana schools will be in the MWC due to their superior attendance numbers, well developed programs, and solid academics.
The Big Sky candidates may argue it makes more sense to show solidarity in staying at the FCS level to convince the Montana schools that rebuilding the WAC would require more schools from as far away as Texas --- trashing the better geography argument.
I think ultimately that is why the Montana schools will not join any time soon.
I think the best hope for now in this pathway forward is an eight-member conference with five to six football playing members. I think the Montana schools recognize that they could not drag four to five schools with them into today's gutted WAC. I think five to six football members just is not going to be good enough for the Montana schools.
Likewise, a merger with the Big Sky seems unlikely.
This is why I have argued that what appeared to be Idaho pinning the WAC's hopes on the Montana schools instead of just adding Lamar to complete the WAC was a very poor plan.
Could NDSU and the summit be the answer?
The I-AAA (non-football sponsoring) Summit Conference has had nearly as tough a go of it as the WAC the last few years.
They have lost a number of members. Centenary dropped from Division I. Southern Utah joined the Big Sky. Oral Roberts accepted an invite to the Southland Conference.
The Summit was able to convince Nebraska-Omaha to agree to replace Oral Roberts, but as a conference they are looking at 8 members.
Losing their 3 eastern most members (Oakland and their two ridiculously named Indiana members) would drop the Summit to 5 members, just like the WAC.
It is highly, highly unlikely the WAC could coerce the Dakota trio and Western Illinois into all moving to the FBS level immediately as they all have stable FCS homes. Really only NDSU has the look of being FBS and WAC ready with their 19,000 seat Fargodome and solid turnouts in basketball anyway. It is just questionable whether they would join.
So a football merger is probably out.
If football status of member schools is an issue for the WAC and they do not want to tolerate FCS members, the WAC could simply poach UMKC and Nebraska-Omaha and be at a very manageable seven members.
Adding a school like Utah Valley University to that would give the WAC the 8 members required to stabilize the conference as an I-AAA auto-bid conference with balanced scheduling.
Additionally like UVU, UNO is a surprisingly decent potential FBS player. UNO shut down a fairly popular and storied FCS football program 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 is a 9500 seat stadium that needs a major upgrade to host FBS football, but the bones of the stadium are fairly good and 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 ll the bells and whistles and that would be a perfect capacity home for an FBS startup in the WAC.
Dangling FBS football in front of UNO's boosters and Omaha residents & politicians could yield surprising results --- especially if their conference could be gobbled up by the WAC overnight.
Basically, the WAC has the potential to leave the Summit in awful shape. The WAC could play hardball with the FCS members of the Summit if needed to get them to join a I-AAA WAC. I suspect that would not be needed.
The WAC could probably convince the members with no immediate FBS prospects to lend their numbers to a I-AAA WAC. That would give the WAC the ability to play hardball with NDSU to get them to upgrade.
"Come with the other 4 schools and upgrade to FBS now, or inherit the Summit".
NDSU may be considering FBS in the near future anyway and there is some money in the region these days.
From there a more stable WAC could look for more football members. The summit footprint it closer to Texas than the Big Sky footprint, so Texas schools could be more palatable.
Lamar want to play FBS ball and Sunbelt commissioner Karl Benson continues to mention Sam Houston State, implying that their leadership is still aggressively kicking the tires on an FBS upgrade.
There have been rumors of the WAC talking to all three of the Texas tribute Universities --- Sam Houston State, Steven F. Austin University, and Lamar ---- about upgrading to join the WAC. That seems a fairly believable premise. That would give the WAC 8 football members.
And Jacksonville State in Alabama is available as well. Adding them as a football only ninth member would help scheduling. They certainly do not have any other options to move to the FBS level that sound realistic today.
Adding them as an all sports member is an option too, but I think it would make more sense to add them as a football-only member and balance the divisions by adding a basketball ringer that is a better geographic fit, like former Summit member Oral Roberts.
Utah Valley -F
Jacksonville State - FO
On the positive side, it is workable, has TV & expansion potential, and the geography is tolerable, but there are a lot of negatives.
Ultimately it has more of a chance of success if the Summit leadership is given the keys to the resulting conference. That in itself may be tough to manage.
It would require Idaho and NMSU committing to the conference knowing full well that the WAC will admit a lot of new members who do not have a similar academic profile. I do not know if they can bring themselves to do that.
If Idaho and NMSU won't buy in, the raid could easily go the other way, with the WAC losing schools to the summit. I'll address that in a second.
Additionally, I think the only way the South Dakota schools go along with this is if they are promised they will receive FBS invites within a few years. It makes little sense to have 3 FBS football playing members in two states with that small of a population in an FBS conference, but that may be the cost of this plan down the road.
If a commitment isn't made to the South Dakota schools, they would probably stick with the Summit and work to pull schools away from WAC.
Would Appalachian State and the eastern powers of the FCS be enough to save the WAC?
I believe this offers the best possible outcome for the WAC, but absolutely requires Idaho and NMSU to make a serious commitment to the conference.
The appeal of the proposal would be strengthened if UT Arlington can be convinced to hang around.
The WAC could offer the eastern FCS powers a ticket to the FBS that doesn't include accepting peer status to Sunbelt schools.
If you are Appalachian State, how excited are you about the prospects of playing FAU and ULM? How excited are you about playing a collection of schools that mostly average 16,000 or less per football game?
How excited is any Southeastern FCS power about that?
The WAC can offer more.
While the western schools are not big draws either, the eastern invitees would be and those schools would far outnumber Idaho and NMSU.
Lets say the WAC starts by offering Lamar and Jacksonville State slots.
Both schools are clearly chomping at the bit for an FBS invite.
Lamar is a strong basketball school that draws fairly well in football. At the FBS level, they would have sole ownership of a Golden Triangle, an area of 385,000, which could translate into much larger turnouts. They also have a number of alumni who live in the Houston DMA.
Jacksonville State is in a bad situation. They are perfect for the Sunbelt footprint, but the Sunbelt already has Troy and Southern Alabama. It is highly likely both of those schools will work together to block the possible admission of Jacksonville State. JSU is in the Birmingham DMA, but is effectively halfway between Birmingham and Atlanta, so they could prove to be a very valuable commodity at the FBS level for this kind of conference.
The WAC may be the only FBS offer that comes their way in the next 20 years. If offered, I firmly believe Jacksonville State will take the offer. I think their leadership probably realizes after putting the sign out last year and not having anyone kick the tires on their school as an FBS candidate, a WAC offer could their only shot at achieving their goal of FBS ball.
If the WAC fails, Jacksonville State would likely be fine with playing football as an FBS football independent until the Sunbelt eventually calls. There are plenty of schools nearby who would play them.
From a WAC perspective, if the eastern strategy doesn't work out, one trip to the east isn't going to kill anyone. They have already endured years of traveling to Louisiana Tech.
The presence of the non-football schools means that there is an very good chance the WAC would end up with divisional play with JSU being in an eastern division in Olympic sports, cutting travel costs.
Adding a basketball schools like Oral Roberts would be a smart add geographically and to help develop WAC basketball.
That gets the WAC to 9 all sports members with 4 football members.
The eastern play
Adding Jacksonville State gives the WAC eastern division plan immediate credibility with the eastern FCS elite. It is fairly easy to come up with a list of schools who might be likely to accept an invite.
Appalachian State's leadership has to be disappointed after being passed over by conference USA for Charlotte. App State would likely much rather play FCS elite draws like Jacksonville State and Georgia Southern than the schools of the Sun Belt.
With the Sunbelt nearing 12 members, Georgia Southern has little chance of earning a Sunbelt bid. The WAC can offer them an FBS home with their chief rival Appalachian State.
James Madison has expanded their stadium in what looks to be preparation for an FBS move. They can either hope for an invitation from the MAC that will turn them into a distant outlier in that conference or join a relatively compact eastern WAC division.
Liberty University aims to be the BYU or Notre Dame of Evangelicals. Playing FBS football is a big part of that plan. Their football budget already exceeds several FBS schools' budgets. There is no guarantee the MAC or Sunbelt will ever offer them a berth. Joining a "nationwide" WAC with religious schools Seattle & Oral Roberts would be an ideal platform for them and the WAC.
Adding in few large and successful I-AAA schools in the region like George Mason and Virginia Commonwealth would be smart. There is an exit fee for basketball schools leaving CAA, but this could be a scenario that makes paying it worthwhile. (VCU is apparently considering a move to the Atlantic 10.)
FBS football conference members get more media attention than members of FCS conferences. Both schools could also justify paying the fee if they could extract a future FBS invite (if and when they are ready) as their payment for joining.
The final spot could be offered to a number of schools with the first acceptance getting the slot. There are potential all-sports member schools who could handle the upgrade but might pass on an invite like Delaware, Eastern Kentucky, or Florida A&M.
The slot could be split between a football only member like Villanova and an Olympic sports member like N. Florida or N. Kentucky or even a basketball ringer like Davidson.
If you cannot get another eastern member, Lamar could slide east and UVU could get the invite.
I think this is a scenario where the merit of saving UT Arlington becomes abundantly clear.
DFW is not only a top-six Designated Market Area. It is also one of the top sports recruiting areas in the nation.
No conference hosts their basketball postseason tournaments in DFW.
UTA is in the geographic center of the Metroplex and has a brand new, very nice arena that seats 5000 --- absolutely a perfect number for this conference.
It is very conceivable to imagine UTA with a sold out nationwide WAC conference tourney each year and good local media coverage.
Nothing the Sunbelt could offer will fast track the development of UTA basketball like this could.
Bringing in three to six tournament-level bubble level teams each season to play in front of DFW recruits could really help WAC recruiting and fast track improvements to the WAC basketball product.
The smart move is to use the tourney as bait for UTA to stay.
New Mexico State -F
Jacksonville State -F
App State -F
Georgia Southern -F
James Madison -F
A School To Be Determined
This conference could have surprising potential. It could become a Conference USA type success story.
There is additionally a great positioning advantage for Idaho and NMSU. Playing in a league full of FCS upgrades means an easier schedule for the next two to four years. It means a much greater chance of being bowl-eligible each year.
If Idaho goes to the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl for the next four years, that helps the view of Idaho football. If they can use that success and the plight of the WAC to fuel the financing of an upper deck to the Kibbbie Dome, suddenly Idaho starts looking a lot better to the MWC than a school like Montana.
Likewise, if NMSU emerges as a WAC power in the next five years while UNM and UTEP continue to struggle, public sentiment could make their case for inclusion.
Between Lamar, Jacksonville State, and others, there are enough teams to rebuild the WAC.
This is another option that is likely only available if Idaho and NMSU make a meaningful commitment to the WAC.
Lets start with the low hanging fruit.
If there is truth to the reports of Utah Valley's football fund, UVU would probably accept an invite even if the cost is adding football.
Lamar is ready to upgrade and would likely join just for the FBS invite if offered a slot.
Jacksonville State may be fairly distant, but they are ready to upgrade and would likely join even as an all-sports member if offered a slot.
That gets the WAC to 5 football playing members and eight all sports members (or nine if UT Arlington can be convinced to stay). That is good enough to keep the basketball autobid, but is still three football playing all-sports members short.
I think it would make sense to invite either The University of North Dakota or North Dakota State to play FBS football.
There are 4 FBS members in the Dakotas. The University of South Dakota and South Dakota State University do not appear ready for FBS. There is a legitimate question of how many FBS programs in the Dakota states make sense for a conference anyway.
NDSU offers a ready to go FBS product. NDSU might take the offer because they recognize their football is more advanced than their conference mates at USD and SDSU. NDSU could easily decline the offer as well as the WAC looks unstable and NDSU may not feel any urgency to accept.
UND is in more precarious waters and as such might be more willing to take a WAC life vest immediately. They don't look like an FBS ready product at a glance, but there are a lot of assets out there that could make it workable. I think in spite of their troubles, UND could actually turn out to be the smarter pick as they may be more appealing to other candidates like the University of Nebraska Omaha.
From an academic perspective, both North Dakota universities are peer level institutions to Utah State.
I think at this point a consideration of what sports to sponsor would be wise. I think one of the smartest things the WAC can do for long term payoffs at this point is to start encouraging their members to start playing Denver's sports choices --- generally the sports of the idle rich.
It could make their media offerings far more interesting to broadcasters than other FBS conferences, could make the conferences more appealing to academically strong schools, and could give member schools additional issues to consider before leaving.
One sport that jumps out as a potential revenue generator at the gate and a TV friendly sport for the WAC is hockey. Denver and UND are national hockey powers.
With two hockey powers in tow, the University of Nebraska Omaha might be more receptive to a WAC overture.
(If UNO joined, Alaska Anchorage, Alaska Fairbanks, and Colorado College would all likely be receptive to becoming affiliate members of the WAC in Hockey.)
As mentioned previously Sam Houston State continues to be mentioned as a candidate school by Karl Benson. Would they fast track a move to the FBS world to get in today?
If UTA stays, that would be 8 for football, 12 for all sports. If they go, Oral Roberts could be team 12.
Utah Valley -F
UND -F -H
UNO -F -H
Jacksonville State - F
Hockey only associate members
Alaska Anchorage -H
Alaska Fairbanks -H
Colorado College -H
Or if UNO getting football back at a financially viable level trumps their other concerns, and the WAC schools would rather focus on basketball than Hockey, adding NDSU instead of UNO could help open the door to a raid of the Horizon as NDSU has a better supported basketball program.
The Horizon could donate some big markets to the WAC TV offering.
Offering slots to Horizon members The University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and The University of Illinois at Chicago (or Loyola University Chicago) would be smart TV moves.
While there is no guarantee those schools have an interest in the WAC, in theory 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 a one-bid league on the low end of what one might consider a mid-major conference.
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 and exposure in the WAC.
Additionally the area only has FBS football at Notre Dame, Northwestern, and Northern Illinois. There is room for college football programs in Milwaukee and central Chicago.
If either school has an interest in the possibility of playing football that they 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 one.
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 top leadership is not considering.
The school is certainly large enough to support an FBS program successfully with an enrollment of 30,502. There is no college or traditional pro football competition in the city.
They just hired a new Athletic Director who used to be the AD at Ohio State. If they could talk their way into playing their games at the Brewers' 41,900 seat Miller Park, I think you could see a major FBS start up 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. If UWM has access to the ballpark, the start up finances are not as daunting as they could be and the other elements are there. In the ballpark, UWM could quickly have a financially successful football team.
They look like a very good prospect to contact.
Getting a foot in the door to the FBS world might very well be worth jumping conferences to them. Having a promising candidate which is also great in basketball should make it a worthwhile add for the WAC.
Adding a Chicago school as their travel partner makes sense.
There is no visible FBS pulse at either of the Chicago schools so football is an afterthought here, but both have the enrollment to wash FBS costs if they become interested. UIC has an enrollment of 27,580 --- quite a lot for a public school --- and Loyola (IL) has an enrollment of 15,670 which would make it one of the larger privates at the FBS level.
And UIC is less than three miles from Soldier Field.
Both Chicago schools are struggling in basketball in the Horizon. A change of conference by either school could lead to a change of fortunes. Being the Chicago school in the WAC could potentially help recruiting and attendance as the WAC would likely try to increase their conference exposure in talent hotbed Chicago if they had a member there.
Adding UMKC and Oral Roberts could balance the divisions.
Utah Valley -F
UIC (or Loyola-Chicago)
Jacksonville State - F
Now what happens if Idaho and NMSU continue to make the WAC unstable by trying to escape?
If it continues, the WAC has much less pull on candidates and much less stability in keeping current members.
I could see a school like Denver losing patience with Idaho and NMSU and moving to the Summit as potential team No. 6. If the Summit loses Oakland and the Indiana schools, the Summit becomes a very reasonable conference footprint for Denver.
Like UT Arlington, Denver is a key to the WAC remaining a high quality conference.
Could Denver joining the summit lead to Utah Valley University getting an offer and joining too? Absolutely.
If the three easternmost schools are gone, the Summit footprint could expand a little westward.
Remember the Great West Conference --- to which UVU belongs --- was put together by the Summit leadership as to help out those stranded independents. I could easily see that relationship ---that loyalty --- coming into play here vs. an unstable WAC.
Who else is out there?
It looks like Chicago State may be on its way out of Division I.
UTPA as another GWC member could end up in the Summit as team #8 if they get desperate.
Northern Kentucky could be a smart add as an eighth member and frankly New Mexico State could easily be the front runner for that slot as well if they get a football only invite from the Sunbelt.
What would happen to the WAC?
I'd have to think this is when Idaho would have to admit that their chess match with the Big Sky is over. Their efforts to try to entice their rival Montana into moving up to FBS would have failed. The Big Sky leadership would have beat them them in Ali fashion, calling it in advance.
I think this is when Idaho's President would tuck tail and downgrade their program to FCS football to rejoin the Big Sky. They would effectively admit they can't hang with the big boys. Big Sky Commissioner Doug Fullerton would be able to strut in and claim his prize.
Idaho would be in hand. The Montanas would be waiting for the MWC to add them --- possibly for quite a long time. Stability and cost saving divisional play would be achieved.
As far as the WAC...Well, NCAA tournament berths do not grow on trees, so while it could go defunct, there is also a pathway to rebuild even at that late date.
Seattle as an isolated school would probably try to keep the WAC alive to retain an avenue into the NCAA tourney --- until the WCC finally lets them in. For Seattle, at that point, the quality of the conference is almost an irrelevant point. They just would want something that is convenient they can pound into submission every year --- a lot like Gonzaga used to do to the WCC.
Boise State would also have no other options. The Big West has already turned them down. The Big Sky commissioner recently said his conference is interested in Idaho but is not willing to host Boise State's Olympic sports.
What would matter short term is geography and head count.
I think they would likely talk to western independents as well as members of three D-II conferences, the Pacific West Conference, The Great Northwest Athletic Conference, & the California Collegiate Athletic Association.
Grand Canyon University may have some interest. The Academy of Art is large enough to afford I-AAA membership costs and Dixie State University may have to consider it although they have a D-II football program to consider.
Likewise from the GNAC, the two Alaska schools --- the University of Alaska Anchorage and the University of Alaska Fairbanks --- could want in. Western Washington would be a school to talk to. Central Washington has D-II football, but could be a consideration. Canada's Simon Frasier University would be a nice addition, but there are NCAA roadblocks that would have to be addressed first.
The Big West's constant refusal to admit Cal State Bakersfield, should be sending a message to the Cal State schools that the last spot available in the Big West is being held for San Jose State. If Cal State schools in the CCAA want to move up, they need to find another Division I conference to invite them.
Saving the WAC could buy them the votes for future slots in a DI conference.
I think any of the 4 northern most members (Chico State, Humbolt State, Sonoma State, and San Francisco State) might consider upgrading from D-II to I-AAA. They have to know their chances of lucking into a future invite to the Division I level are otherwise near non-existent. SFSU is by far the most promising long term I-AAA candidate in the lot.
And there is of course the last of the Great West members --- UTPA and New Jersey Tech.
It is not difficult to see a number of schools who might be receptive to this conference concept. The footprint would probably be small enough and nothing similar (I-AAA conference accepting non-religious schools) has been broached to D-II schools in the region.
The question is time to execute rebuilding the conference.
Will enough be ready to go to reach eight members without stretching the geography or might an outlier like UTPA or NJIT need to be added as a temporary member to get it done in time?
The WAC may have to take who they can get to reach eight.
University of Alaska Anchorage
University of Alaska Fairbanks
San Francisco State
The Academy of Art
Grand Canyon University
Cal State Bakersfield
It is important to note that no one really wins if Idaho and NMSU do not commit to their fellow members. In that regards, the leadership at every member of the WAC and like minded members of both school's fan bases should be giving the leaderships at both schools an earful about the costs of disloyalty.