Saving the WAC
Another article, another doom and gloom pronouncement from WAC commissioner Karl Benson.
"...Given reports that Hawaii also is considering going independent in football and has had least preliminary discussions with the Big West about its non-football sports, Benson acknowledged Tuesday that everybody in the league is now back in play—including USU.
“It wouldn’t surprise me to know that Utah State is having conversations with the Mountain West Conference,” Benson told The Tribune. “That’s probably a phase that applies to all of us now. It’s the operative phase.”..."
Look Commissioner Benson, I know you are depressed.
It has to be depressing to put together home-run scenario after home-run scenario only to be sold out time and time again by short-sighted, disloyal members, but... this is your job.
The best possible take I have come up with is that maybe you are trying to lull the the neighborhood bully, MWC Commissioner Craig Thompson, into a false sense of security and dominance.
That isn't a bad strategy, but there is a downside. Every defeated word from your lips paints a picture of a valueless conference on the verge of collapse to fans of your current membership. It hurts more than it helps, so it has to stop.
A friend of mine once told me something at what I felt was my lowest point, but I needed to hear it and I think so do you.
"Man up, Dude."
Enough of this crying in your beer. Until this conference has no members, they dissolve it, or they fire you, you are the magic man.
It is your job to fix things.
You need to look at this optimistically. There is a real shot that you might have some actual loyalty from the conference membership if you can get them by this.
The conference has fallen in esteem so much that you can add the schools you need to generate TV revenue without stupid reasons getting in the way.
In that one regard you are in much better shape than the MWC.
Yes, the glass is half empty, but any half-empty glass is also by definition half-full.
Things are tough but I have a plan to help you make the magic happen (laid out step by step in Bleacher Report slideshow format for all the BR audience).
Any WAC resurrection plan at this point will involve multiple steps and will be convoluted. The conference has fallen to too few members for simple solutions.
I can't do much about it being convoluted, but I have done my best to make sure each step is at least within the realms of possibility as every candidate school has some dissatisfaction with their current conference, very little to lose in a potential upgrade and a lot to gain, or perhaps some fears about maintaining their current conference membership.
Find out the likelihood of collecting the Fresno and Nevada exit fees
You have to know what your assets are going into recruitment. You need an honest and direct assessment from trusted legal advisers.
What (if anything) can you collect and how quickly can you reasonably hope to collect it? Knowing your assets really impacts what you can do.
Will you have $10 million to dole out over the next couple seasons? Can you give some money to schools like SJSU that will have problems with added travel costs?
Can you loan out upgrade costs to western FCS schools? Or is the exit fee money an illusion?
One can imagine a scenario where the WAC may not be able to collect any exit fees from Fresno State and Nevada.
If Nevada never signed the papers and left first, it could be an issue.
Your comments in the papers a few days ago seemed to acknowledge that once the seal was broken (the league lost a member) that the exit fee agreements were null and void.
(We will ignore the idea that you agreed to create a loyalty clause that went voidable for this bleacher report. Just don't do it again.)
So... What does that mean? Do they both owe exit fees for maybe exiting on the same day? Are they tied in douchebaggery?
Does one owe and not the other? Does Fresno owe the fee because they signed the papers and left first or did Nevada leave first and because they only gave their word and didn't sign it in blood recovering the fee may not be possible AND they voided all the other contracts on the way out?
(For the record, I think it would be very hard to make the case that Nevada doesn't owe the money as long as the WAC is in existence. Nevada participated in a meeting specifically designed to come up with a way of showing BYU the WAC members' commitments to each other. In that meeting, a commitment was asked for from all members and Nevada gave their commitment. It sounds like a verbal commitment with numerous "witnesses". Now could the fact that the WAC sent out written documents to replace that verbal agreement impact that? Maybe. Either way, I would not be so quick to dismiss this as uncollectable debt from a welcher.)
Secure a moratorium on departures and harmful talk
You busted your ass putting together the very rare "up pecking order" conference raid. You were days away from stealing BYU until once again the members you work for sold you out.
Asking for a 6 month moratorium on any talk of leaving is not a huge request from someone who was once again pantsed publicly by your member schools.
If it takes a few moments of guilt tripping with the leadership at some schools, absolutely do it, but logic sells better.
There is a pathway forward that will create the potential of leapfrogging the MWC within 10 years, but it requires all six schools to commit.
If one more school leaves, the WAC would fall below having 6 core DI members who have played together for 5 years and would likely lose their automatic basketball tourney bid.
(In most NCAA sports, the rule for post season eligibility for a conference is two years at the minimum number of members; In basketball it is five years with six core division I members, joined by a seventh core DI member. This rule governing conference basketball post-season automatic qualifier status is called the "5/6/7 rule.")
Without that bid, they would have a very hard time luring teams from the conferences that do have NCAA tournament bids (every other DI conference but the Great West). The caliber of team the WAC could land would drop dramatically.
It would very likely kill the WAC. SJSU, Idaho, and NMSU would likely drop to FCS or drop football entirely, putting a lot of those school's athletic departments' employees out of work, costing a lot of kids a free education, and hurting those universities' ability to promote their institutions.
If they keep the WAC 6 together and add another DI team (like BYU for example) as seventh member (satisfying the "joined by a seventh core DI member" part of the 5/6/7 rule), they will retain their basketball tournament slot.
The Unloved Trio
SJSU, Idaho, and NMSU have no better options. They should be advocating this moratorium on defection talk to the three potential flight risks.
Hawaii is looking hard at their fallback position of being a football Independent, but how reasonable is that really?
UH would have to play big money body bag games at school like USC, UT, Washington, and others to earn the payouts to allow them to bribe schools to fly in and play them in one of the best home-field advantages in the nation.
Would Hawaii ever be able break even? Would ESPN money allow UH to bring in Pac-10 schools? Would BYU play UH if BYU didn't get a non-football home as part of the deal?
Would peer schools like Fresno State even return Hawaii's calls? Could teams like San Jose State charge exorbitant fees to play UH in Hawaii?
Independence could work for UH, or it could be the final nail in the coffin for UH football. If UH leaves and the WAC dies, UH football will have no escape plan if their independence play fails.
Before taking that final option, why not take a strong pro-WAC stance with their local media and give Benson six months?
The curious case of Utah State.
It seems that USU was targeted to be the biggest pawn in this big realignment mudslide.
Benson and Utah State President Stan Albrecht apparently masterminded and brokered the BYU deal.
BYU appears to want to do USU a favor. It seems pretty likely that BYU is looking for a win-win situation for USU as BYU transitions to Independence and then a likely future Big 12 membership. It looks like they were willing to work with the WAC in part to help USU (apparently some BYU bigwigs have USU ties).
Even with a gutted WAC, it appears BYU is still willing to talk about WAC membership.
The MWC, on the other hand, appears to have attempted to use USU to kill WAC solidarity, not knowing the Aggies' level of involvement in the BYU raid.
It appears the MWC leadership assumed that if they offered percieved "small time" WAC member Utah State a slot, the Aggies would likely wet themselves in their hurry to rush to accept that very unlikely membership offer from the MWC.
The thought was USU's departure would have destroyed WAC solidarity, opening the door to a raid of Nevada and cash poor Fresno State, allowing both to leave without issue.
It does suggest the MWC was not only aware of the loyalty deals, they may actually have identified that the contracts were void after a team left.
When Utah State refused, Fresno State and Nevada determined they felt comfortable with their chances of evading the penalties in the loyalty agreements and bolted anyway. This may have been a surprising turn of events for the MWC.
Afterall, Utah State has been engaged in "aggressive negotiations" with the MWC to get another invitation for almost a week now. Those talks have been fruitless.
That seemed very odd considering the MWC was prepared to let them in last week, but makes a ton of sense if the Presidents of the MWC schools were already aware of Albrecht's emails and general attitude towards the MWC in general and specifically his attitude to the unloyal former WAC members.
It seems like the MWC may not see any value to adding Utah State now and frankly there may not be the support among the member schools in the MWC for adding USU at this point.
The release of these emails may have done a lot to save the WAC by decreasing the odds of a MWC raid of Utah State.
Regardless, Benson and the WAC schools need to strongly encourage Utah State to stop pursuing MWC membership and re-recruit Utah State before the MWC changes their mind and they make another offer to Utah State.
It may be tough to sell Utah State; It may not. The Aggies can't be enjoying the current begging and apologizing they are having to do.
USU proved they are at their core loyal conference members whose word means something and who would actively get their hands dirty and fight to make the conference better. They need to be retained.
Their WAC cohorts should coax the Aggies into six months of no talks with the MWC.
It is very likely there is better future revenue in staying in the WAC than joining the MWC anyway. The numbers may need to be rolled out for them.
It might be smart to send word through "unofficial channels" from BYU that Utah State needs to stay in the WAC if they want to be in the same conference as BYU.
Keeping USU may very well be a key to having a shot at landing BYU.
La Tech should consider that with Charlotte adding football and UNT building a new stadium, they may again be the odd man out in CUSA.
And as BYU may join the WAC anyway, there is a good chance TCU might return to CUSA dropping La Tech even further down in CUSA's preferred realignment pecking order.
Joining the Sun Belt means becoming a peer to UL-Monroe. That is a very unattractive option for La Tech.
Like UH, it is pretty clear to most people not near the university that the best play for this school is keeping the WAC alive and pushing for dramatic expansion.
The post-MWC WAC has always considered itself a Pacific conference that tolerates central schools. For that reason, La Tech was allowed to be exempt from the last loyalty agreement.
It would make sense to write the next one to at least keep Tech basketball a bit longer if their CUSA bid comes in to allow the WAC to not lose it's bid to the NCAA tourney.
It is not too much to ask.
La Tech should be sold on a promise that the WAC will not allow them to bleed travel dollars anymore. Come hell or high water there will be a southern WAC division for La Tech.
What is needed
The WAC needs some confidentiality agreements with teeth. They don't need leaks getting back to the MWC.
They need Hawaii to actively curb all the independence talk in their local media and Utah State to vocally commit to the WAC in their local media.
If the WAC can get all six teams on board for a moratorium on any talk of leaving and issuing strong vocal commitments to Benson and the WAC to their media over the next six months, this conference will have not only a heartbeat, but a strong one at that.
Talk to BYU, confirm they are still interested, and secure them
At this point I am sure some of you are spitting milk out of your noses.
"Add BYU? Preposterous!"
But be honest for a second. If I had said the WAC was on the verge of adding BYU three weeks ago, your reaction would have been exactly the same.
The conditions that led BYU to consider joining what is, on paper, an inferior conference still exist. The MWC may have added two teams but those adds do not affect the MWC's BCS math.
The odds of the MWC getting into the BCS are still very long when they likely balance on being judged by a committee comprised of representatives from 7 BCS automatic qualifier conferences and 5 BCS non-AQ conferences.
Getting into the WAC is not the point. The point is the MWC offers less money than BYU would make on their own. The TV deal is so bad that BYU can take a hit in basketball and still make a ton more money in football.
More to the point, the WAC can actually offer a sweeter deal in many ways than they could before the defections.
Let's say the WAC starts with the proposed pre-nup...
...and then says...
"Hey BYU, How do you feel about the conference basketball tournament being played at altitude in Salt Lake City each year?"
That increases the chance of BYU making a run in the conference tourney each year, sells more BYU merchandise, and puts money in BYU's pocket.
"Hey BYU, We are pretty bummed about losing Fresno and Nevada, two of our stronger basketball draws. We understand you want to ensure that we don't have a football-myopic conference like the old Southwest Conference or today's Southland and Big Sky Conferences that blow off generating any revenue in basketball season.
"We are going to get some pretty good basketball draws and if you prefer, we will stack the configuration so they are in your division. How does that sound?"
"Hey BYU, How do you feel about a large conference that features tons of big markets?"
If BYU is going to create their own network, they will think like the networks, not like a school. A school might want to not "lower themselves" to be affiliated with less-developed schools.
Networks, on the other hand, are concerned with the total package a conference brings (i.e., it is a ton better to bring 12-20 schools with tons of big markets). The network wants in with local providers.
"How do you feel about being guaranteed a game in football against the pre-season highest ranked team in the conference?
How do you feel about a guarantee that BYU will never be scheduled against the weakest teams in the conference in football?
How about a schedule that gives you match-up against only the strongest out of division conference opponents in basketball?"
While this would be very non-standard and could take some work, a large WAC can tailor a schedule each season to help BYU maintain a good strength of schedule.
"Hey BYU, how do you feel about the WAC insisting any WAC team that plays you either agrees to promote it as a highlight game on the schedule or play at a special facility or at a nearby larger market site?"
The WAC can promote BYU in areas BYU has never really tapped their Mormon fan base (more on this in a bit).
"Hey BYU, how do you feel about us replacing small market Fresno and Reno with big markets Seattle, Portland, Sacramento, Denver and the like?"
The WAC has total freedom to chase markets now if they like. They have no shot at BCS AQ status, so they can pursue an entirely more likely source of revenue by securing schools in big TV markets.
The big problem with the Mtn is they have no markets. The WAC can potentially offer the BYU network great markets to sell the BYU football brand and make money off the broadcasts of local WAC teams.
The potential exists down the road for BYU to be pocketing more money off the BYU network due to the broadcasting of WAC games than BYU would make as a have not in the Big 12; their only path to BCS AQ inclusion.
As a network OWNER, $13 million is not a big number, especially if you have a national brand (BYU) and footholds in a lot of major markets in which to sell it..
With all this still waiting to be offered, I would argue securing BYU is quite doable.
I'd advocate making the above additional concessions in return for some added concessions from BYU.
I'd want BYU to agree to set aside five or maybe even six football dates that the WAC would dole out to WAC members to secure loyalty (UH) and add new members.
I'd want BYU (as a likely short-term member) to agree not to have a vote on expansion candidates and to agree to remain totally impartial and uninvolved in expansion discussions.
Secure a new loyalty deal from the WAC 6 pack
The membership of the WAC was willing to put $5 Million up as a promise of loyalty. Why would they not do it again with the same prize out there?
For schools like Idaho, SJSU, and NMSU who have no good options if the WAC dies, $5M, $10M, or even $100M, it doesn't matter...they aren't jumping to another FBS conference.
For the others, the recent past should make it very clear that $5M is not enough of a deterrent.
Plus you have to think about landing new members. Any school that thinks about joining the WAC will be discouraged by the conference's history of self-serving behavior from its members. That reputation has to be overcome in some way.
Commissioner Benson said he should have asked for a $20M commitment. I think a $10M fee would be appropriate for the WAC 6 pack.
One more lost school out of the remaining six dramatically reduces the WAC's chances of survival.
BYU would also probably insist on a larger amount anyway and more teeth to the arrangement this time around.
Maybe the agreement should be structured as a "last man standing" deal - all departing schools have to pay exit fees unless the remaining schools vote to disband the conference.
Additionally, a new loyalty agreement for a new higher amount if drafted in the right way could potentially help the WAC in their claims on the previous broken agreement.
If these schools were willing to sign a loyalty agreement to land BYU when they had a better hand, why would they not do the same when they possess a lesser hand?
Stabilize the WAC at 8 football members
With BYU on board, it is entirely possible Boise State will want to rush to return to the WAC hoping to play BYU in football.
Fresno State may want to as well. If they chose to, the WAC could forgive Fresno's exit-fee debt to grease the wheels of their return.
The dream for WAC members was probably to use BYU's readmission to pick and chose from the membership of the MWC. Today that seems unlikely.
Considering it is somewhat likely BYU only maintains a short-term relationship with the WAC, it is also entirely possible no MWC schools jump back to the WAC with its smaller athletic budgets.
Boise State and Fresno State
The WAC would be smart to allow both teams to return only on the conditions that 1) they sign far more binding and longer loyalty agreements than even required of the six current members and 2) that Fresno State and Boise State are excluded from expansion discussions or expansion votes for the next six years.
Both schools have, after all, proven to be disloyal to their conference members and a constant roadblock to past expansion efforts.
Adding those two back would be a little like getting back together with your crazy but hot ex-girlfriend. It may look sweet in the short term, but it generally ends badly with you hating yourself for agreeing to it.
You have to change the terms for them if they come back. If the two schools refuse the terms, I'd argue that is an acceptable loss.
The loss of the Boise (DMA #113/210) and Fresno (#55/210) markets are somewhat insignificant in media terms.
While Boise State is a current darling of ESPN, there is no reason Hawaii or some other WAC school could not fill that role.
ESPN made Boise State football media relevant and helped their recruiting by putting them on TV repeatedly.
There is no reason to think some other WAC school would not improve and profit from heavy ESPN exposure.
(There is a lot to the argument that the WAC has struggled since the MWC breakaway because they have a lot of small market teams. They had 9 mouths to feed, but their membership could not generate much TV revenue. The WAC has the freedom to go after bigger TV markets today, allowing ESPN the option to sell teh WAC brand rather than just a single school in the conference.)
The WAC with Fresno State and Boise is not BCS AQ caliber, so there little value there. While it is true that in years when Boise does happen to get into the BCS the other teams in the WAC split half of the payout, that may actually be destructive to the conference.
The lure of a share of that occasional $4.5 Million has been a hurdle to expansion efforts in the past as It is another big sum that the WAC members haven't wanted to split with more teams.
I would argue this is dysfunctional thinking. Stability is landing big markets that generate TV income every year, not praying for the occasional BCS Bowl run to pull member school's financials out of the toilet.
Plus with Oregon and Oregon State playing at a top 25 level, Washington appearing on the verge of resurgence, and new Pac-12 members Colorado and Utah likely to pick off a top recruit here or there from the Pacific Northwest and California, is it really smart to assume Boise State will continue to be a dynasty flirting with undefeated seasons each year (and consequently earning BCS payouts) or is it more likely they take a step back?
I'd argue the real loss if both teams do not return is the loss of their basketball programs. Both are strong attendance draws. Still, if the WAC already has BYU working with them, the greatest value they brought three months ago (attracting BYU) is already irrelevant.
If the opportunity arises, it would be great to add them as the first step in an expansion to 12 or more members, but if they can block movement to expand, it makes more sense to pass.
Readmitting them with no conditions merely restores the WAC to the dysfunctional state it has been in the last few years.
If and probably when BYU does leave, both would probably just defect to the MWC again to be affiliated with those schools' larger budget programs!
I would argue landing better TV markets and building long-term stability and coherence is more than worth potentially losing Boise State and Fresno State over a principled stance on terms for their possible readmission.
Nevada-Reno and UNLV?
Hawaii would likely love the WAC to pursue the readmission of both Nevada schools as there are a lot of islanders in Las Vegas (DMA #43/210) and Reno (#110/210). That would give Hawaii strong mainland support at both schools as well as in Utah (lots of Hawaiians out there too).
I think ultimately UNR has burned bridges with the rest of the WAC and likely doesn't have the votes to return. While UNLV has a decent market, adding them alone is not likely either.
UNM & ?
UNM is an interesting name as they are the obvious mercenary in the MWC and there is some support politically for getting both major New Mexico schools in the same conference, but I think it is far, far more likely that if the Lobos were moving anywhere it would be to CUSA.
So who else do you add?
If no MWC schools are readmitted to the WAC that still leaves the WAC on a path to a reduced 6 members in a couple seasons.
Where does the WAC get the two football playing members they need at that point to continue their post season bowl arrangements and whatnot?
It is unlikely FCS upgrades would be ready to go by then, so who do you add from the schools already at the FBS level?
The University of North Texas and the University of Louisiana-Lafayette.
UNT has declined twice now, why do you think they will say yes?
Because the WAC has never had the ability to offer UNT a home game against a national draw like BYU. The WAC has never had that kind of ammunition in their courtship of UNT over the years.
Start by offering UNT an annual game against BYU.
UNT has never been able to host a national power with a huge multi-state fan base like BYU.
Seeing BYU come off TCU's schedule and go on UNT's schedule would be a HUGE shot in the arm for the perception of UNT athletics in Dallas/Fort Worth. SMU isn't hosting BYU in football.
For years, the biggest draw UNT has been able to host is Army. Now there is nothing wrong with Army, but they aren't a BCS AQ caliber school in terms of attendance.
This is bigger than what CUSA could offer in terms of UNT's current needs.
Hosting BYU would be a big neon sign for UNT's slumbering alumni base that UNT has taken a major step forward in joining the WAC.
This would be an attention getting offer.
WAC history with UNT
UNT is the only current FBS school west of the Louisiana in a conference lower than the WAC. For that reason, they have been pursued at least twice before by the WAC.
UNT declined the first time because they didn't like all the westward travel over multiple time zones, the fans didn't feel any passion for any of the WAC schools west of NMSU, they felt there was not enough media attention on the WAC, and the travel costs were too much to bear with an athletic budget that at the time that was in the $14M range.
Starting next year UNT will have a new stadium that should generate more revenue and about $7M more added to their current $16M athletic budget due to a new student athletic fee. Now they can afford the travel if they want.
They passed on the WAC's desires this year because they still didn't want to be the ninth team in an geographically challenging footprint and they are pursuing travel-friendly CUSA west membership with that conference's myriad of Texas schools (UNT draws significantly better against regional schools than against their Sun Belt competition).
What UNT brings to the table
UNT probably has the largest alumni-base in Dallas/Fort Worth (although you can never tell with UT and A&M). DFW is the country's fifth largest DMA.
Although their attendence lags, UNT could provide pretty solid viewship numbers in a conference with opponents that excite their fans.
UNT offers brand new facilities for all sports and a growing athletic budget that should be the largest in the WAC by 2025 (unless BYU remains in the WAC).
They also provide credibility to the WAC's expansion efforts by illustrating that the WAC won't have to reach down to the FCS level for all of their additions.
UNT also has an emerging basketball program under Johnny Jones that looks like it could compete for titles in the WAC with BYU, Utah State, and New Mexico State.
UNT provides the WAC a current FBS presence in Texas that should allow the WAC to have much greater success recruiting neighboring schools than Louisiana Tech alone would provide.
The failures of previous offers
The problem with previous WAC offers is that they were focused on what the WAC needed, not what UNT wants. There has been an attitude of "Hey, we have Hawaii and Boise State: two teams that earned BCS invites. Accept our terms!"
UNT's leadership has probably thought quietly to themsleves, "...But you are also the conference that has crippled Louisiana Tech's athletic programs with high travel costs. Why should we be another La Tech?"
The offer need to address the desires and concerns of UNT.
UNT has one overwhelming desire...to join CUSA. UNT wants to enjoy cheap in-division travel and large turnouts by playing teams the UNT fan base wants to see.
UNT would probably enjoy membership in a higher stature conference than the Sun Belt, but they don't want to do anything to hurt their case for CUSA inclusion. Membership in an eight- or nine-team WAC might hurt more than help.
If WAC membership addresses the desire of UNT and helps their case to reach that goal, I firmly believe they would join the WAC rather quickly.
The pitch this time
I think if the WAC 6 loyalty packages were in affect, an offer of WAC membership that included an annual series with BYU in football with a promise to that the WAC would be playing in travel-cost sensitive regional divisions by 2016 would be very tempting.
UNT would also require an "escape clause" to join CUSA (ala La Tech's) with no penalty providing the Mean Green give one year's notice.
That is not a deal breaker for the WAC. Remember UNT has immense value today with the WAC on the ropes, but they won't always have that kind of impact on the WAC.
After the WAC is stabilized, the WAC will be able to afford to let UNT go if UNT's CUSA offer comes in. Sam Houston State (in the No. 10 Houston DMA) might be a more than adequate replacement at that point.
This kind of offer is a win-win deal for the WAC and UNT.
With that clause in place, I think UNT would agree to sign a $5M WAC loyalty pact not to join the MWC...something I think should be required of all new members.
How do you land ULL?
With UNT and La Tech on board, ULL would likely be a fairly easy add.
There is deep resentment against UL-Monroe over Monroe squeezing in on Lafayette's attempt to grab the "University of Louisiana" brand for themselves.
ULL considers themselves more of a peer to La Tech than ULM. Being in the same conference as ULM while La Tech is in a higher level conference defeats that message.
While a school like Arkansas State might be just as attracted by an affiliation with UNT and La Tech, unlike Arkansas State, ULL has a reason to get out of the Sun Belt.
Really the only thing that would prevent ULL from joining would be budgetary concerns and the WAC's expansive (and expensive) travel.
I think they could be quite content with a promise of divisional play to cut costs.
A promise of a fairly immediate move to at least 12 members in conference in non-football sports with an assurance football will also move to exceed 12 members by 2016 would likely do it.
That gets the league to 8 full members, now expand for divisions.
Eight full members would make the WAC look somewhat stable again.
You still have to honor the commitments you have made to schools like UNT, ULL, La Tech and others to cut travel costs by going to split divisions.
This is really a requirement as travel costs in a 8-10 team conference could kill NMSU or SJSU's budgets.
I think the best way to achieve this is to have two entirely separate regional "clusters" in football.
One division would be a southern division occupying the states surrounding Texas - New Mexico, Oklahoma, Arkansas, and Louisiana. The other would be a Pacific Northwest division centered around a triangle between Idaho, SJSU, and BYU.
The logical choices for the fifth and sixth teams in the southern division are upgrading FCS schools UT-San Antonio and Texas State.
Both have committed to plans to upgrade to FBS level by the middle of the decade.
Both have large student bodies in excess of 25K who have voted to max out their athletic fees at the state maximum of $20 a semester hour.
This will put both athletic budgets in the $25M-$30M range - among the top in the WAC.
UTSA will play in the Alamo Dome, a perfect site for a semi-annual BYU game. Texas State is going through a series of stadium enlargements that will make their stadium solidly WAC-sized.
UTSA is in the San Antonio DMA. Texas State is in the Austin DMA. This would give the WAC large alumni bases in three of the top four DMAs in Texas.
The Northwest problem
In the west, things are a bit stickier if you don't lure Boise and Fresno back. There are no candidates actively planning to move to the FBS ranks.
To me, the sensible picks to offer WAC membership (based on a written promise to upgrade to FBS football) would be Portland State and Sacramento State.
They offer two very good markets.
Neither school is in great financial shape today, but I'd argue that in athletic terms it is because they are playing small town ball (FCS) while being located in a big city where sports fans have big time tastes.
Both have great potential and I think if confronted with an offer of WAC membership the money would appear to make the upgrade work (and if needed add a couple new sports).
Both have 20K stadiums already. (For me, this pushes Sac State ahead of UC-Davis.) Those should be workable for a move to FBS, which makes upgrade costs much more reasonable.
Sacramento State has a stadium that used to be used for the CFL Sacramento Coal Miners. The stadium has seen better days, but with a date with the FBS pending, perhaps Sac State donors would step forward with a couple million for repairs and modest seating improvements.
Their proximity to San Jose State would be a boon for that struggling school's travel costs and might provide a true fan building rivalry.
Portland State's home stadium, PGE Park, is being converted to a setup with grandstands on either sideline that will be much more suited for building a football fan base (currently the park is in a baseball setup with L shaped grandstands that dramatically limits PSU attendance).
(Certainly there are other options if Portland State and Sacramento State can't do it. Montana and Montana State would work, but offer no markets. Arkansas State and Lamar could do it but offer no markets and don't fix the travel issues for western schools.)
While none of these teams will transition immediately to FBS play, they all play basketball and many other WAC sports.
Potentially, they could transition over to the WAC in all the other sports (perhaps briefly playing in the Great West in football as they transition to FBS) allowing the WAC to split into two divisions in the other sports, dramatically cutting travel costs.
This will give the WAC 12 members for football and 13 for basketball and their other sports.
Build a conference basketball culture by adding strong programs
The 12/13 team conference would be pretty weak in basketball. That would need to be addressed to give the confernece two revenue generating sports.
Adding basketball star programs
My first thought is, of course, Wichita State and Creighton: two star programs from the Missouri Valley Conference.
In my near-decade long sample, Creighton finished an eyepopping 21st in per game attendance nationally; Wichita State finished 41st.
I wonder how secure non-football playing members of the MVC feel. It could just be perception, but the MVC does seem to be doing things that suggest they may be flirting with the idea of evolving into an all-sports conference.
Could those two schools consider changing conferences? Maybe.
Sadly, I think with the mix you have, you don't have the basketball credibility to add them or a strong, attractive conference outlier like St. Louis.
As I noted on the page that discussed the possibility of reaquiring Boise State & Fresno State, I am trying to focus on what can be done and not what might be able to be done. (Now maybe if Fresno and Boise are on board...maybe.)
Credibility and a conference's basketball culture
It isn't that this WAC's basketball teams aren't strong enough on the court, it is that eight of the 13 we are discussing have drawn far less than 3,000 fans per game on average over the last decade.
Attendance is a great indicator of overall local support and of the kind of current potential media audiences. Attendance in this WAC would need to go up for the WAC to be able to mine good viewship numbers from their markets.
The potential WAC programs for the most part have not committed resources to drawing fans and building revenue generating basketball programs.
Why would schools like Creighton or St. Louis in conferences that draw well want to join a conference with a poor basketball culture where schools don't make money in basketball season?
It is a real problem for this proposed WAC. It needs more strong basketball schools to allow the conference to develop a basketball culture.
Five basketball schools that the WAC could and should land
I think the WAC needs to pursue schools that kind of look like they could be strong basketball schools but are in bad situations. They need schools that can spur a conference-wide commitment to basketball.
Since they likely cannot land the available big draws, the WAC should also pursue big markets to strengthen the conference coverage.
I think these five schools should be targeted to allow for three six-team divisions. This breaks out to a nice 16-game schedule for every WAC team with 10 in divison games and 6 out of divison games.
Seattle is a private religious non-football DI school that would like to rejoin the West Coast Conference, but so far no offer is forthcoming. They just resumed DI play.
They play in an NBA city without an NBA team. That suggests if they were in a strong conference they would quickly build a strong fan base.
They drew over 3000 fans per game last season and could likely to a lot better in a name conference.
The City of Seattle offers an enthusiastic large fan base trained to follow basketball, with no NBA competition.
Potentially, WAC membership could allow Seattle to ramp up their program and fan support quickly to a point where the WCC would feel a need to offer them membership. In the interim, the WAC would profit.
Seattle is the 14th most populous DMA in the US.
The Sun Belt just drove off Denver (a non-football school) over travel. The rules they implemented combined with the economic downturn also pushed New Orleans to downgrade, leaving UALR as the last non-football school in the Sun Belt.
Currently they are due to be a scheduling awkward 11th team in the Sun Belt. It seems fairly possible that they too will be pushed out in favor of potential all-sport FCS upgrades like Florida A&M, Georgia Southern, or Jackson State in the near future.
I think UALR might be quite receptive to an offer.
They have averaged a little under 4,000 per game over the last decade.
Little Rock is in the nation's 57th ranked DMA.
The inclusion of ORU may be a surprise to many as the university is seen by many as very fringe, but the arguments for it are sound.
Let's look at the financial arguments.
They are located in Tulsa, the 60th most populous DMA in America. They have averaged right at 6,000 fans per game over the last decade and as a school where the fan base has deeply personal religious ties, they may be able to draw well in conference.
ORU is an outlier in the rather forgettable Summit League. Joining the WAC would be a tremendous step up in terms of perception and would put the ORU name out in front of folks in areas where Oral Roberts had more of an impact, which would help enrollment.
That is the main point of having athletic programs from a university perspective.
Finally putting ORU, Seattle, and BYU in the same division would create potentially huge games and has the potential of helping bridge Mormonism to the greater Christian world. It could be great for all schools in that regard.
I would also include two schools that probably aren't on anyone's list.
Inspite of having the largest athletic budget in the Sun Belt, Denver was unceremoniously forced out of the 'Belt.
Denver has a big market and a competitive basketball program, but also has major competition issues. The NFL Broncos' presence pretty much assures Denver will never add football.
The presence of the Nuggets likely assures that Denver will never draw more than 3000-4000 per game in basketball at the high end.
All that said, pro cities can be worth adding because fans will watch the games on TV.
San Francisco State
SFSU is a DII program. Calling them a basketball school is a stretch. I would still champion them for a number of reasons.
First, you can run a IAAA program for very little money. The actual financial difference between DII (non-football) and IAAA is not that pronounced and would likely be made up due to stronger support from alumni and boosters and media payouts.
The Cal State system is worried about the WAC and San Jose State. The additions of two large Cal State schools in the area at minimal outlays could do a lot for all three schools and minimize the risk.
Secondly, because while there is an NBA team in Oakland, there is not one in San Francisco. The school's enrollment is also quite large at 30,000.
These factors create the potential for a strong draw from the community against better competition, although early on the small size of the arena would be a bottleneck.
Additionally, their addition protects and enhances the WAC's TV presence in the critical Bay area DMA (#6/210). With the university's enrollment, SFSU has a huge local alumni-base for TV purposes.
Finally they are a natural rival for SJSU and Sac State and quite close by. Getting SJSU healthier is of vital importance to the survival of the WAC.
Certainly these aren't the sexiest additions, but they are sensible ones.
How it would all work together
This would give the WAC 12 football teams in two regionally sensible conferences and 18 basketball teams in three sensible regional conferences.
Travel costs would be contained.
In the agreement the WAC and BYU had negotiated, the'Memorandum of Understanding' (MOU), it clearly states BYU would be able to broadcast regular season games that would not interfere with the ESPN contract.
"BYU commits to televising via its cable network the following WAC events: all matches of the WAC volleyball tournament not televised by ESPN, all games of the WAC men's and women's basketball tournaments not televised by ESPN, all games of the WAC baseball tournament and softball tournament," the agreement stated. "BYU will have the rights to televise any other WAC championship events that is wishes, along with any other regular-season events when permissible per the ESPN contract."
For the kind of WAC discribed in this article that could be a gold mine for the WAC and BYU in the early days of this new conference.
The WAC likely couldn't pay ESPN to broadcast say the 2013 UNT/ULL football game, but the BYU Network would be very motivated to do so to help DFW exposure for their network.
On the same token a San Jose State/San Francisco State basketball game would hold little interest for ESPN, but would be great to help the BYU network get a foothold in the Bay area.
Having two networks broadcasting WAC content would fast track the progression of the WAC member schools to ESPN level media relevance.
The large membership (and many large fan bases) would give a huge amount of people reasons to tune in for WAC games. In working with networks, it is what you bring to the table in total as a conference.
The WAC could offer ESPN the following top 75 DMAs:
#5 Dallas/Fort Worth
#6 The Bay Area
#35 Salt Lake/Utah
#37 San Antonio
#57 Little Rock
Many with large resident alumni bases. As well as the potential of all day sports that go well into the night (with home games in the state of Hawaii).
The WAC conference basketball tournament could be held in the home arena of the NBA Utah Jazz.
Utah State, north of Salt Lake City, averaged over 8000 fans per game over my attendance sample. BYU, south of Salt Lake City, averaged over 12,000 fans per game.
Both school's alumni migration patterns have the lion's share of their alumni moving to Salt Lake City.
This means the WAC basketball tournament would likely sell out, look great on TV, and be well covered.
Chin up, Karl Benson.
If you take action today, this conference is not over until you say it's over. As this article lays out there are a lot of pathways forward available to you, so go get 'em, Champ!