During this time of teams switching college football conferences, no conference has been hit more by the epidemic than the Western Athletic conference. Over the years the WAC has lost schools such as BYU, Utah, Air Force and Wyoming. This season will see more of the same.
Boise State, after finishing 12-1 last year and ranked tenth in the country, left the WAC this season for the Mountain West conference. A move that will again change the dramatically depleted conference, but they have bigger plans and won’t sit by feeling sorry.
The Western Athletic Conference is now endeavoring enough schools to have two divisions and a title game. This means they have to be creative and entice smaller schools to join the conference hoping to be college football’s next Boise State.
WAC Commissioner Karl Benson said at the league preview in Las Vegas has wanted to disregard school location and proximity in recruiting new schools. Rather he will talk about how much improvement can be made joining a mid-sized national conference.
“The WAC has shown that when you join the WAC, teams get better. You take advantage of the WAC and you take advantage of the assets of the WAC. History has shown that.”
History has also shown when schools get better, they bolt. That has been the problem with the conference for the past 15 years.
Boise State isn’t the only departure giving the WAC an unwanted change. Hawaii, Fresno State and Nevada are all picked by media and coaches to finish atop the WAC this year. Coincidentally, are all moving to the Mountain West next year.
The league has already announced five schools will join the WAC for next year. Seattle, Denver, Texas State, Texas-San Antonio and Texas-Arlington will enter, bringing its total membership to 10. However this total only includes seven schools that play football. That means the conference wants two more universities to bring the league to 12 members.
Benson will take time off now from going after schools for now and will re-commence the search in January. Part of that search will be convincing teams that joining the WAC will be convenient in terms of coordinating travel and other logistics for sports besides football. Benson said his plan of splitting the conference into two divisions would let West Coast teams travel to Texas less frequently, perhaps once every other year instead of annually. This type of maneuver has worked well for schools in lower divisions of college football and basketball.
Benson added starting in 2012; the WAC will be down to one automatic bowl bid, the Humanitarian Bowl. That game is between the WAC champ against a Mid-American Conference team and is played in December. Benson is hoping the new teams will learn from the past teams and his conference will perform well enough to justify at-large bids to other bowl games.
One of the most respected coaches nationally in the WAC is Fresno State coach Pat Hill and he sums up the unknown history of the WAC. Hill has spent 19 of his 38 years in coaching within the WAC and thinks his team, Boise State, Nevada and others have grown tremendously because they have had the WAC as a platform.
“I think the reputation of the WAC is a lot like the reputation of our football team. The WAC’s a survivor, they’re a fighter, and they always survive.”