The Choice UNT Faces: Be a Leader Or a Follower For The Rest Of Its Days
Pictured: Boise State Player standing next to some stupid trophy that probably came as part of a deal with a fat BCS Bowl check for his school. - Not pictured, any Sun Belt school.
UNT fans seem OK with passing over overtures from the Western Athletic Conference again for the security of the Sun Belt Conference's warm teat.
It seems horrifically poor logic as the Sun Belt is the worst FBS conference out there.
I have to ask, will UNT fans feel the same if UTSA or Texas State gets tabbed as the 9th team by a possibly desperate WAC?
You want an even worse thought, what if UNT blows off the WAC, Texas State or even UTSA gets in, and then they become an SMU sized roadblock of any future UNT WAC admission?
If Texas State were to get in, it could make a lot of sense to block UNT and UTSA. San Marcos (in the shadow of Austin) is potentially a very tough recruiting position with UTSA in the same conference. Being in a higher level conference than UNT should allow Texas State to suppliment their recruiting with DFW talent at UNT's expense.
If UTSA gets in Larry Coker and Co. may decide they profit more being the only Texas school in the conference in terms of media and recruiting. It may give them a better shot to try to be the next Fresno to block other Texas schools. They also would move ahead of UNT in terms of DFW and Texas recruiting in that scenario.
There is a fair bit of logic for both schools to try to go it alone and to block any other Texas schools joining. They have the budgets to handle the travel. WAC schools don't want to lose any control of their conference and certainly won't want 2 trips to Texas in anything less than a 12 team conference, so they would likely go along.
Hawaii and Fresno State are still potential BCS busters. Fresno just needs to learn to play defense again. Hawaii could be on the cusp of bouncing back...or not. Still, there is nothing like that in the Sun Belt. No future BCS checks will be coming down the way.
There is a very real chance that if UNT passes this opportunity up now, it not only may not be offered again, but could also blow up in UNT's face.
Who's to say UNT can get into CUSA? There is talk of potentially Houston to the Big 12. It is unclear how much of a risk a loss like that or any other CUSA school to a BCS conference might be. If that occurs, why would an eastern leaning CUSA not add old CUSA staple Charlotte over UNT? They have friends and rivalries. It is already potentially 6-5 for them over UNT in that scenario and that would be before SMU starts campaigning.
Will SMU continue to block UNT in hopes of a MWC implosion and a TCU recovery?
Do I really need to ask that question?
UNT could get permanently blocked by SMU in C-USA and Texas State or UTSA in the WAC. UNT could be trapped in the Sun Belt forever.
The Sun Belt is STILL the worst FBS conference in America.
The argument of UNT fans against a western movement is that without Boise, the WAC just another Big West, and UNT had an awful time playing those schools. Players flying west sucked. No one cared about games against the western schools at UNT (with the lone exception of New Mexico State games) and vice versa.
Even if the media in Texas considers the Sun Belt a joke, the media coverage is better than what UNT had in the Big West.
Their logic is the Sun Belt is better than the Big West.
I would argue that the Big West didn't have two programs the level of Hawaii and Fresno State - and probably didn't have three at the level of Idaho, La Tech, and Nevada - therefore the WAC is MUCH better than the Big West and today's Sun Belt.
Consider for a second what occurs if the Sun Belt loses Troy and/or MTSU? What then?
The reality of the Sun Belt is that they are 2 realignment losses from being right back where they were 5 years ago. The Sun Belt is 2 bad days away from being the same old crappy Sun Belt reloading with the ULMs of the world.
A gigantic footprint with nothing to show for it; The worst FBS conference in America without question.
Heck, if the MAC suddenly gets interested in Western Kentucky, WKU and MTSU could go north! That reported interest by both schools has been out there for years.
You won't see that in the WAC. The odds of Fresno moving up are slim, and the odds of Hawaii moving up are near non-existent.
The WAC "is what it is" and will continue to be that. It is very counterintuitive, but there is a great deal of stability the WAC can offer UNT and that UNT can offer the WAC.
UNT has the leverage to negotiate a great deal from the WAC.
I totally get the "travel sucks in the west" argument, but the WAC is a little fragile right now. They have little in terms of TV markets and have the potential of losing regionally isolated La Tech and possibly San Jose State and New Mexico State to high travel costs and poor turnouts.
As the only realistic current FBS team out there the WAC could land (without a MWC collapse) and a school with a large alumni base residing in a huge nationally relevant market, UNT probably has a lot of leverage to push for a better ending position than just team nine in a nine team WAC.
UNT needs to be grabbing UTSA and Texas State as allies. Without UNT's influence they are in the same boat UNT is and will likely be fighting each other (and UNT) for slot nine in a nine team WAC.
UTSA and Texas State students have voted to max out their athletic fees at $20 per sememster hour - double what UNT's students voted to do. Now eventually UNT's athletic budget will surpass both schools' again, but for now UNT is looking at the very real potential that either of those schools has the financial means to pass UNT in competitiveness and national esteem in a superior conference.
Texas State has an enrollment of 30,816; UTSA has an enrollment of 28,955. I don't know what students were paying at each school before in athletic fees, but mutliplying those numbers out gives potentially a $17-18 Million increase in their athletic budgets. This will put both schools on the high end of WAC athletic budgets, far ahead of Sun Belt budgets.
With UNT's insistance, negotiations, and coordination, all 3 schools can probably get into the WAC, maximizing UNT's and the central Texas duo's values and making Texas State and UTSA solid allies. Potentially the three Texas giants could opt as a group to storm CUSA on better terms in 10 years or less, putting their shared alumni bases in signifigant markets -fueled by enrollments of almost 100K - to good use.
Or they could forget about that and maybe potentially steal a UTEP or even a Houston down the road - collecting large alumni bases for Big TV payouts. (I call it the long term "Screw SMU" plan.)
Regardless UNT would lead the way... not follow.
UNT's best bet is to use the leverage it has with the WAC (and over UTSA and Texas State) in the pursuit of a split division WAC as the cost of our inclusion.
ULL wants to be with UNT in a higher level conference than ULM.
Arkansas State has a history with La Tech, ULL, UNT and even with the other former Big west schools. They may or may not come along. The Sun Belt could be a lot less ideal for them if WKU and MTSU aren't in it, which is always a looming possibility.
UNT is the key player who could probably get this type of proposal done. They have the best leverage and the long term relationships with the other schools.
There is no higher profile move than being a "conference maker". This would put UNT as being perceived at the non-AQ level of delivering the kind of siezmic change that UT threatened to deliver 2 weeks ago with the Pac-10 flirtation.
If you want to put UNT on the map, this would do it.
UNT could sell the WAC on the idea that they could miss getting the kind of bump that conference needs by adding only 1 team in Texas if they chose the wrong team.
If the WAC adds the wrong Texas school, they could see a landslide erosion with La Tech defecting and NMSU financially imploding. Then they are REALLY screwed as they would not have any western candidates and would have taken a huge presitge loss.
They have a lot to lose. UNT has a lot to lose.
When you have these conditions it is easy to see a "win-win" scenario arising.
Rather than waiting for CUSA Godot, it makes a lot more sense to take an immediate WAC bump and use our superior leverage to manufacture a stable division centered around UNT. Take the best we know we can get, and make it work for UNT.
What would that look like?
After a few weeks of consideration, I think at 12/14 would be the right strategy for UNT and the western WAC schools.
Add the 3 amigos (ULL, UNT, & Arky state – 3 of the 5 schools that tried starting their own conference year ago with La Tech and Lamar) and the two upgrading Southland giants (Texas State and UTSA) with their soon to be huge athletic budgets (for the non-BCS level).
Sacramento State would be the smart play to admit as a non-football member for now in the west. Due to their FBS sized stadium, proximity to Sac State, Fresno State, and Reno they are the western FCS school most likely to be able to move up to the FBS level successfully and quickly. Sac State offers a nice nationally significant TV designated market area and futher builds the alliance between the WAC and the California State system.
Getting Sac State in for all sports would cut San Jose's budget and help the neighboring SJSU Spartans a bit with attendance. The western WAC (today's WAC)cannot afford to lose San Jose State in TV terms as the conference has very few markets of note.
Lamar can be left to the Southland or Sun Belt for now. They offer good insurance in the future.
I think La Tech might get a CUSA invite at some point and at that point UTSA will take their slot for 12 for football, but for now UTSA and Sac State would be non-football members.
WAC Pacific Division
Sac State (Great West for football as they start an FBS transition)
San Jose State
WAC Southwest Division
New Mexico State
Texas-San Antonio (GW for football as they complete their FBS startup transition)
That gives UNT ideal in division travel and maybe 2 games OOD with western travel in each sport. Regardless of two trips going "the wrong way", that is MUCH better for UNT than the Sun Belt today in terms of travel costs and Texas media exposure.
Additionally, UNT could smartly insist that its schedule has Hawaii on it each year as a "rivalry game". I have long thought that would give UNT a state-wide recruiting edge to be able to offer recruits 2 trips to Hawaii in their careers. Right there UNT would have a permanent edge over UTSA and Texas State in recruiting and esteem. Plus (while I am not sure if in conference includes this) teams that play Hawaii are allowed to play 13 games in a regular season instead of 12.
If UNT pushes for it, it gives the WAC the public relations angle to add upgrading schools like UTSA & Texas State and say "Well...UNT twisted our arm". They can also mask the fact that the central Texas duo both are upgrading behind the fact both will have athletic budgets at the top of the WAC and they are also being joined by 3 long time FBS members.
It makes it a lot more of a saleable point in terms of arguing that even though they added upgrading FCS and IAAA schools, they are still better than the MAC and more importantly that they aren't on the same level as the Sun Belt now.
Remember if the Sun Belt loses UNT, ULL, and Arky, they will need to add FCS upgrades too - protecting the WAC's "lead".
It is "Win-win" all around.
Frankly schools in both conferences would benefit from the measure in the long term even if it would be a minor hit in the short term.
The WAC Southwest Division schools would all have nice travel and good rivals. The WAC Pacific Division would have the ability to quickly game the attendance numbers to get Sac State moved up to FBS - potentially helping stabilize a key at risk school like San Jose State.
(Sac State is two hours from Reno and San Jose State and 3 hours from Fresno, so if those 3 WAC schools and Hawaii did schedule home and home games with Sac State with the idea of gaming the NCAA system and pushing Sac State up in short order, they could get it done. Those 4 WAC schools could fill that 21K stadium twice a year. Assuming 6 home games with 9,935 in the other 4 games - and it should be more in the GW as Sac State is totally isolated in the Big Sky - that would give Sac State an average attendance of 13,623 per game. That isn’t hitting the multi-year 15,000 or so that is technically officially needed, but it isn’t far off and if they hit something north of there, would probably be enough to satisfy the NCAA.)
This deal takes the WAC out of the danger zone in the short term.
In the long term, both divisions could decide to break away into seperate conferences at a future date to give berth to extra shared bowl games if they chose.
The Sun Belt would lose some schools, but they are considered the worst FBS conference out there, so they have no stature to lose. They would likely add Georgia Southern and Jacksonville State (and maybe FAMU or Lamar) ramping up rivalries and potentially dramatically improving the footprint in terms of travel costs.
Time to Think Big
UNT has a lot of leverage over schools like UTSA and Texas State that they likely won't have in 10 years time when the next wave of realignment may hit.
If a school has this kind of potential realignment leverage ---and I think UNT does --- I think it will always be a mistake not to use it.
It is time for UNT fans to think big. Our school needs us to push it to become a leader and not a follower at the FBS level.
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