The Western Athletic Conference won’t have enough teams to compete in football following the 2012 season. Commissioner Jeff Hurd will spend the next year fighting to keep the conference alive in any capacity, but football will not be an option for the 2013 season, and maybe beyond.
While the WAC was hardly a football powerhouse, it had at least had a measure of stability. Remember a little over a year ago when it looked as though the Big 12 might fold? Nebraska had joined the Big Ten, Colorado moved to the (former) Pac-10 and virtually the entire southern half of the conference held offers from the Pac-10 as well.
Back then – because it seems almost a lifetime ago already – bloggers and media outlets were clamoring over themselves to figure out what would happen to the Big 12 and whether or not it would survive as a football conference.
Texas convinced Oklahoma to stay put, Oklahoma State wasn’t leaving without their in-state brethren and the Big 12 stayed on life support for another year. As it turns out, Oklahoma State was stronger than expected, Kansas State stepped up their game and Baylor shocked almost everyone with their incredible run.
Just like that, the conference was not only alive; it was strong. The additions of TCU and West Virginia even helped counter the additional losses of Missouri and Texas A&M who both went to the SEC.
Don’t think that’s the end of Big 12 expansion either. They may just come back stronger than ever, making the defections seem almost like a culling of lesser talent.
The WAC however, didn’t fare nearly as well. They didn’t have the core strength of the Big 12 to help them weather the conference realignment storm.
Hawaii provided some exciting sparks in 2007 with their 12-1 record and Boise State had been the face of the conference over the next four seasons, with an undefeated record in 2009.
Both have moved on to the Mountain West. Boise State will move on even further after 2012 season, opting to play in the Big East where they will (temporarily at least) have a place in a coveted BCS Automatic Qualifying conference.
Aside from those two teams, who did the WAC have that they could push forward as the face of a legitimate football threat? Fresno State? Gone. Nevada? Also gone. Idaho? They’re going Independent.
There were no power teams (or even quasi-power teams) left to carry the conference and attract new talent. As a result, there won’t be enough teams available to field a football conference at all.
Who else might be cautiously keeping an ear to the rumor mills surrounding realignment?
The Big East has to be a little nervous. While they’re as strong as anyone in basketball, football has recently taken some hits. West Virginia’s defection to the Big 12 hurt more than they’d have you believe. Having Pitt and Syracuse bolt to the ACC for the start of this season practically puts that conference on life support.
Oh, they’ll keep enough teams for the immediate future to remain eligible to exist as a football conference, but they may well lack the strength to exist as anything more than your typical non-AQ (or mid-major) conference. Should the drum beats continue to march on toward ever-larger power conferences, it’s hard to imagine the Big East being considered among the elite.
They do have Boise State coming in to help solidify their ranks, but the Broncos have shown a clear propensity toward doing what’s best for their program with no particular loyalty toward conference affiliation. Don’t think they wouldn’t bolt for the Big 12, Big Ten, or even ACC if an invitation were on the table. They’d take a shot at the Pac-12 in a heartbeat, if the opportunity presented itself.
What about the ACC? They’re strong now and there’s no reason to believe they’re in any danger. That is, unless the new four-team playoff format really does help usher in a four-”super conference” environment.
It’s well suited to do just that. Exactly how many times do you think the SEC will get away with putting two teams in a four-team tournament before other conferences and fans alike start calling for the tournament to exclusively include conference champions? I’d be willing to bet it would only take once of having another all-SEC championship before more changes come crashing down.
In that scenario, the ACC is in hot water. Can the conference honestly say that they’re able to field national title-caliber teams on a yearly basis?
Despite the Big Ten’s recent woes and lackluster bowl performances, there’s always a strong chance that Ohio State (when not serving sanctions), Michigan and possibly Wisconsin could contend for a title. The Big 12 has Oklahoma and Texas that could throw their hat in the ring in any given year. USC will keep the Pac-12 relevant even if/when Standford and Oregon fade.
The SEC is the current king of the mountain. They’re the standard around which all others are breaking themselves to measure up.
How many times would the ACC get locked out of the big dance before their best teams start looking at the conferences that get more attention in title talks?
That’s all conjecture at this point, but it’s conjecture that bares serious consideration.
For the last few years we’ve been hearing about “the dominoes falling” in a mad conference realignment bustle. Perhaps it isn’t happening as quickly as our instant-gratification society is used to, but it’s happening year-by-year and team-by-team. The result today is the announcement that the Western Athletic Conference will no longer be viable as a football conference.
While the “tremor” of this is largely only felt by the older generations with a strong historical knowledge of the game, it’s still a significant change. Several tiny tremors eventually add up to one big earth-shattering change. Already look at how different college football looks today from just five years ago. Look at how different it’s poised to be when the new playoffs take effect following the 2014 season.
The questions are: which domino will fall next and how big a tremor will it cause?