The Return of the WAC

Nine years ago (almost to the day), I wrote about the football demise of the Western Athletic Conference. I wrote that it appeared they would only be able to compete as a football conference for one more season, which is what happened.

A central theme of the piece was that I didn't understand why the members of the WAC would flee it like rats from a sinking ship when the WAC was a solid Group of Five conference ('course, we didn't call it that back then) when there were, in my view, historically weaker conferences like the Sun Belt doing just fine and indeed picking up schools — and the conference commissioner! — from the dying WAC.

Well, now the WAC is back, Jack, or about to be. It's surprising, because not only did the previous iteration of WAC football bite the dust, but the WAC as a conference in general had to dip into the Division II pool just to stay alive in other sports, adding Cal Baptist and Grand Canyon at the time (as well as a few Division I schools). Last year, they needed to poach Division II again, adding Tarleton State and Dixie State to make up for departing Cal State-Bakersfield and Missouri-Kansas City.

Then, very abruptly, and confusingly, the WAC became a hot commodity.

They announced the return of football (this time as an FCS conference), a move made possible by the defection to the WAC from four Southland Conference schools (Lamar, Sam Houston, Stephen F. Austin, and Abilene Christian). Sam Houston in particular is quite a get; they will be playing in their third FCS National Championship game in the last ten years this weekend. The Southland is a strong football conference, or was. Now they are down to just six football playing members and will themselves probably need to pluck schools from Division II in order to keep playing football.

The WAC is also adding Southern Utah from the Big Sky Conference. The Southland is also losing Central Arkansas to the Atlantic Sun Conference.

Why is the Southland's name mud all of the sudden? I don't know. Why is the WAC a choice location all of the sudden, I also don't know, but we at least have some statements.

Mostly, it's the kind of canned statements that tell you absolutely nothing, like "this move to the WAC will allow us to take a step forward in achieving our vision of becoming the leading mid-major athletic department in the nation," from Stephen F. Austin Ryan Ivey. The article is full of that kind of claptrap.

Buuuut, one quote is 2% more candid than the others. Sam Houston AD Bobby Williams cited, along with the typical dross, "the opportunity to explore FBS football."

Why would the NCAA return FBS status to the WAC? It's very possible they know something I don't, but if I was a longtime FCS member with FBS aspirations in another conference, I'd be pretty mad if Tarleton State and Dixie State got to make the jump first after only elevating to FCS in 2020. Is there some grandfather clause for former FBS conferences wanting to return (that's a list that includes only the WAC itself)?

It may also be worth mentioning basketball. WAC Commissioner Jeff Hurd had much to say about it in the article, although none of the school representatives did.

It's true that over the last six seasons the WAC has been stronger than the Southland in college basketball going by KenPom conference ratings. In fact, this past season, if you remove the historical doormat SWAC and MEAC conferences, the Southland was the lowest-rated KenPom conference.

That's an easy thing for the WAC Commissioner to point to, but are all of these schools uprooting their current conferences for basketball? Or a future in FBS that I can find nothing, but hopeful speculation about?

It's hard not to suspect, then, the real reason for the switch has something, somehow, to do with money. Maybe the WAC recently won the Publisher's Clearinghouse sweepstakes.

Nevertheless, good for the WAC, and I hope the Southland survives.

Postscript: another thing I wrote in that 2012 piece was, "As an Ohio State alum, I have enjoyed a dominance over my rival that only ended last year. Before that, I would sometimes troll Michigan fan sites and say the OSU/Michigan rivalry will never be competitive again, that Ohio State has left the Wolverines in the rearview mirror forever. As I say, I was trolling. I realize that rivalries have ebbs and flows for each team."

Since then, Ohio State is 8-0 against Michigan, mwah hah hah hah.

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