The Western Athletic Conference readies itself for one of the biggest games in conference history with the backdrop for this game being the impending implosion of the conference. Take a good long look Karl Benson, this may be the last time a game between WAC programs will be the lead on ESPN. The next news involving the WAC could be its disappearance from the college football landscape entirely. The latest off the field news for the WAC; has Hawaii leaving, which leaves the WAC scrambling for candidates to replace programs that have left. The WAC will need to find programs to replace programs that have left, so what does Karl Benson do?
The WAC lost its four best programs to the Mountain West. The WAC in an effort to replace them, courted Montana and North Texas, each understandably felt their current situations were better than anything the WAC could provide. So the WAC is left with seven football playing schools if Louisiana Tech stays. Benson courted programs with on-field success thinking they may want to step up and challenge themselves and thinking they could replace Boise St. Benson needs to understand you cannot replace programs, and that this whole “expansion thing” is more about exposure and less about wins and losses. So maybe Benson courts programs that wants the FBS notoriety, and feel they are stuck in their current conference with no way to move up. So where does Karl Benson turn his eyes?
The WAC needs to come to the realization that it not the MWC, it does not have markets like Honolulu, Las Vegas, and Albuquerque which are top seventy-five television markets, but it could have markets where the school is located in a decent sized market or close to a decent sized market and occupies some space in the consciousness of fans. The WAC looks and makes offers to schools which fit those profiles as well as those that have larger enrollment numbers (read large alumni base). So with that in mind Karl Benson speaks with Northern Arizona (which has an interested market in Phoenix), Northern Colorado (Denver), Cal State Sacramento (Sacramento), Cal St San Luis Obispo (Central California), Cal Davis (Central California), and Portland St (Portland). All of the schools mentioned, with the exception of Northern Colorado, have large enrollment figures.
The WAC pitches the idea that with the conference not being particularly strong currently, those schools can compete at the FBS level and grow into legitimate D-1 programs without the growing pains associated with making that jump. The transition for those programs to FBS football is not as great, in fact one could make the argument that the remaining programs in the WAC compete on the same level as the Big Sky Conference. Compare the facilities at many FCS schools to New Mexico St, or Utah St, and you will notice there is not a huge difference, so the schools mentioned would be able to compete in the WAC in recruiting and on the field almost immediately. The WAC can also pitch to those schools the idea they will be on ESPN. ESPN could want to continue its relationship with the WAC because there are larger markets in the west with potential interest in WAC programs. The conference will also need to hope that it can have a program emerge, and be relevant.
The WAC is a conference which is on life support and needs to get into survival mode. The conference has been through many hardships which could have doomed the conference; when the eight members of the conference held a secret meeting 11 years ago in the Denver Airport and left to form the MWC; the WAC was thought to be dead. When five members left for C-USA, the WAC added schools from the Sun Belt and Big West. The WAC has always been able to gather programs to fill its ranks, the issue now, will be gathering programs that will benefit the conference and continue its survival. Karl Benson are you listening?
Targets in order of desirability
Cal-State Sacramento (1), Portland St (2), Northern Arizona (3) UC Davis (4), Cal St. San Luis Obispo (5) Northern Colorado (6).
Louisiana Tech leaves for C-USA.
Idaho, New Mexico State, Utah St., San Jose St., Texas St., UT San Antonio, Portland St. Cal St Sacramento, Northern Arizona, UC Davis