WAC-Y Future In Texas As King Karl Looks to Save His Conference
No conference has under gone as much turmoil over the last 13 years as the Western Athletic Conference under Commissioner Karl Benson.
Under his watch, 13 teams have left the conference since 1999 and three more, Boise State, Fresno State, and Nevada, are slated to join the Mountain West Conference, a conference full of former WAC members.
Moreover, with the conference down to six members, Karl is in danger of losing Hawaii and Louisiana Tech as well.
King Karl almost saved his kingdom this summer. He, along with the leadership of Fresno State, Nevada, and Utah State, had conceived of "The Project," a plan that would not only save the WAC but allow it grow and develop.
Phase one of the Project was based upon the idea of using BYU's angst and envy at rival Utah's invitation to the Pac-10. The WAC would bring in BYU as a non-football member (who would play a large number of games versus WAC schools) and leverage BYU's presence for an improved TV contract with ESPN.
King Karl conceived of phase two of the Project as using BYU's WAC presence to induce MWC members UNLV and SDSU to jump ship to the WAC as well.
Phase three of the Project would have included a possible swap of CUSA member (and former long-term WAC member) UTEP for Louisiana Tech, which has always been an outlier in the far-flung WAC.
The Project died with the betrayal of key members Fresno State and Nevada, who ditched the WAC only days after agreeing to a $5 million exit fee.
BYU decided to go instead with the West Coast Conference, a conference of small, faith-based private universities such as Gonzaga, St. Mary's, and Pepperdine.
With the WAC now with only six members, schools such as Louisiana Tech and Hawaii are looking at better homes. Hawaii could easily copy BYU and become a football independent and join one of the western conferences for other sports. Louisiana Tech would love to jump to Conference-USA, but could also find a home in the nearby Sun Belt Conference.
So, while the Project has failed, King Karl looks like he will be able to save his conference by bringing schools for the Football Championship Subdivision.
While there are some potential candidates in the Big Sky Conference, including FCS-power Montana, it appears as though the first two additions to the depleted WAC will be in Texas.
Texas State and UT-San Antonio have already made presentations to Karl Benson and will make an additional presentation to the WAC presidents next week.
Texas State is large state university located in San Marcos, halfway between Austin and San Antonio. With over 30,000 students and a new 30,000-seat stadium, Texas State is looking to make a name for itself at the FBS level.
Texas State had already been playing to move up to the FBS, so landing in an established conference like the WAC is huge bonus for the Bobcats.
UT-San Antonio did not have a football team, but decided a few years ago to build a program from scratch, led by former Miami coach Larry Coker. The Roadrunners will play in the Alamodome starting next season.
UTSA, also with over 30,000 students and located in Texas's biggest metro areas, has all the potential to rapidly develop into a good football program.
Both schools would greatly aid in Texas recruiting for the WAC. Louisiana Tech is very excited to have two schools within a reasonable driving distance.
And both schools represent a challenge to the dominance that Big 12 powers Texas and Texas A&M have had over the region. San Antonio and the Texas hill country have long been Longhorn and Aggie territory.
While no one expects UTSA or Texas State to suddenly steal hordes of fans from the top teams of Texas, it is likely that at least some of the current Horn and Aggie fans in the region will support local teams instead of the nearby rivals.
The addition of two Texas schools might be enough to induce Sun Belt member North Texas to jump to the WAC as well. UNT has declined WAC membership twice already, but has experienced great failure in the Sun Belt over the last five years, a conference it previously had dominated.
With a new stadium in hand, maybe the Mean Green would like greener pastures with possibly easier competition in the new WAC.
The biggest concern for the WAC is that the addition of two or three Texas schools would cause Hawaii to finally give up on the conference. Hawaii would do well as a football independent and avoid too many trips to the central time zone.
In order to maintain FBS status, the WAC would need to get a waiver from the NCAA. This might not be as easy as it seems, given that the new WAC would largely be composed of teams that would be better served at the FCS level anyway, given their budgets and attendance.
However, Benson is a former NCAA official and would likely be able to work around the situation and maintain his conference.
The resulting conference would be the worst FBS conference, below the MAC and the Sun Belt. But it still would alive and King Karl will be the miracle worker once again.
And while neither Texas State nor UTSA look like they could be the next Boise State or even Nevada, both have enormous potential, especially given the wealth of available talent in Texas.
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