WAC and Expansion Part Two: Who's Jumped In The Spotlight Of Being New Members?
My very first article on this site talked about who the WAC should go after for expansion and their survival. Granted, most of those teams won't do it due to money issues, but I did have one team listed that is somewhat becoming a realistic possibility. Montana, along with four other schools were invited to hold what was basically a 45-minute audition in front of the heads of the WAC schools and the commissioner. And while Montana didn't make an actual presentation, WAC Commissioner Karl Benson made it clear he wants the Grizzlies:
"More often than not, I'm being told by others in the "industry" that is would appear that Montana is a perfect fit for the WAC. We recognize that, and yet, we also know that institutions need to come to decisions that are in their best interests. We will respect the process that Montana is undergoing today. We will respect the presidential transition. And that at the end of the day, in this 30 to 60 days, that we're hopeful that some decisions can be made."
In other words, he hopes Montana decides that they want to move up so he can invite them in. As it stands, Montana is waiting on the results of their study into whether or not a move would be financially feasible for them. Even though they have the potential to be the next Boise State, if the money isn't there they can easily become the next Western Kentucky. And they have shown before that they won't make the move if it doesn't suit them. There is also their loyalty to Montana State to consider as well. MSU has stated that the idea of moving to the WAC was an interesting idea, but they can't afford to do it right now. The ball is in the Gizzlies' court, if they announce that they can do it, an invite is assured. And the WAC will get themselves a school that has been a national presence in both football and basketball.
So who are the other four schools? Texas-San Antonio, Texas State-San Marcos, Seattle and Denver. The two Texas schools made themselves known to the WAC shortly after Boise left, and have made a good enough impression to be considered. Texas State has made it known since 2007 that one way or another they are going into FBS football by 2012 and have made fantastic steps to do so. The WAC saw their plan and what they have seen thus far and it appears things are on track for the Bobcats to be a WAC member. The Roadrunners have also made good steps as far as wanting to transition up including convincing FBS teams to come to San Antonio and play them in the future at the Alamo Dome. Including Virginia, Kansas State, Baylor and Arizona. More still needs to be done, but the WAC has stated that they were impressed thus far and that UTSA was headed in the right direction. Time will tell if they will get the go ahead invite.
Denver has been on the WAC's radar for one reason only, basketball. Although they are more famous as a national hockey power, Denver has a strong basketball program. Currently, they are in the Sun Belt, but they have felt under appreciated due to them not having a football or a baseball program despite being in the best TV market and having the most money of the schools in the conference. They are also the furthest member of the Sun Belt and would like to cut down on traveling costs (North Texas is the closest in the conference at about 750 miles away). According to ESPN's Andy Katz, should Denver win the Sun Belt (which they are favored to do) and get into the NCAA Tournament, they may get that invite. Seattle, like Denver, is a private school with no football or baseball program, who the WAC would like for basketball. Currently, they are an independent and are going to start their second year as a division one basketball program. Seattle caught the WAC's attention by having a winning season last year (17-10) their first year. This would also give the WAC another big TV market. Now, there are some rumors going around that this might be a show by Seattle so they could get a WCC invite (a conference that Seattle was targeting before the WAC and who has a stronger commitment to basketball). But it's hard for those rumors to hold anything considering the time and effort Seattle had put in to impress the WAC, and that the WAC would probably give out more money.
An email from Idaho AD Rob Spear (sent in early October to boosters) revealed the WAC's possible plans for the future and for considering these teams:
"I just returned from WAC meetings held in Dallas and, as you can imagine, much of our conversations centered on the future of the WAC and future membership. While in Dallas we interviewed five schools: Denver University, Seattle University, Texas State, UT-San Antonio and Montana. Each of these schools brings solid research and academic credentials to the WAC.
"Denver University and Seattle University are very respected private schools and Texas State has the fifth highest overall six-year graduation rate among the 35 Texas public universities. UT-San Antonio awarded 46 doctoral degrees last year, which is higher than three current WAC institutions, and Montana has sponsored research in excess of $71 million. Although we have not made any formal invitations, we are exploring various scenarios that include:
— Nine football-playing schools;
— Eight football-playing schools with two non-football schools totaling 10 conference members;
— Nine football playing schools and one non-football playing school for a total of 10 conference members, or
— Expanding to 12 total conference members.
"The timeframe for our decision will be anywhere between 30 and 90 days. I think it is important to control what we can control and take an aggressive approach to rebuilding the WAC. GO VANDALS! - Rob Spear
If Denver and/or Seattle get official invites, option one is obviously out. And Benson has stated he would like the nine/ten plan to be the one decided on by the athletic directors. Chances are, the WAC will wait and see what Montana decides before inviting either of the Texas schools or Denver and Seattle. If nothing happens after the WAC's 90 day self imposed deadline, the WAC may decide to move on without Montana.
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