After the news of Boise State's departure from the WAC effective July 2011, several different media outlets have weighed in on the consequences for the WAC (see the links section).
Stephen Tsai of the Honolulu Star Advertiser blogged (in an aptly titled post: Can the last WAC team please turn out the lights?) three key consequences:
• Losing potential BCS money.
• Having a diminished national TV value.
• Losing the Humanitarian Bowl.
It'll be interesting to see what happens should Boise State play in a BCS bowl this coming season. According to an article by Brian Murphy in the Idaho Statesman, the Broncos will forfeit over $1 million in WAC revenue but will retain the $3 million bonus should they reach a BCS bowl this season. Dan Wetzel of Yahoo! Sports brought up another interesting thought. Should Boise State go undefeated in non-conference play, how much does the WAC spend on trying to promote them for a spot in the national championship game? If they do no marketing at all, wouldn't that be akin to cutting off your nose to spite your face? But on the flip side, if they spend a bunch of money, they're just marketing a program that is out the door at the end of the 2010-2011 athletic season. Tough decision.
Stephen Tsai also notes that the WAC has lost 13 schools in the past 12 years: with Boise State, Brigham Young, Utah, Colorado State, Air Force, Wyoming, UNLV, San Diego State, New Mexico, Rice, Tulsa, SMU and UTEP.
In a nutshell, despite what WAC Commissioner Karl Benson may say, it's undeniable that the WAC could be in some trouble. While Benson has successfully guided the league through several transitions, this one is unlike any of the previous transitions and the list of FBS (or Division I-A) schools that are geographically fit to join an already cash strapped set of schools (e.g. NM State has had to cut $3 million in the past two seasons from its athletic budget) in the WAC is pretty much non-existent. The last expansion saw the WAC pick up three teams, NM State, Idaho and Utah State, who were not only a geographic fit but also in situations where the WAC was an upgrade over their current FBS conference. All three teams were in the Sun Belt (a terrible geographic fit for all three) and prior to that all three were in the Big West before it dropped football at the FBS level (Boise State was also a Big West member before jumping to the WAC in 2001).
Every single western-half of the U.S. FBS football playing school is already committed to a conference. The Aggies' two rivals, UTEP and UNM, are the most geographically logical teams to add to the WAC. However, UTEP is highly unlikely to give up their spot in Conference USA to join a weakened WAC. New Mexico to the north is most certainly not going to leave a now bolstered Mountain West. There is talk that Nevada wants to join the Mountain West as well, though MWC Commissioner Craig Thompson stated in yesterday's press conference that there are no current plans to add any other WAC schools. We suspect they have bigger fish in sight (read: Kansas and Kansas State). However, the fact remains that Nevada's President and A.D. seem to be on the same page and according to a Q&A with the Reno Gazette-Journal, Nevada is not going to sit idly by while everyone realigns.
We'll preface this by stating that we have no intimate knowledge of the comings and goings of the WAC's business and this is just an educated assumption on our part. However, there is also the possibility that with all this conference realignment that the WAC could also lose Louisiana Tech to a more geographically fit conference. Again, we have no insider knowledge of this, but former La. Tech A.D. Derek Dooley (now Tennessee head football coach) was open in his and the school's desire to move to a more geographically sound conference and it would make sense, given the economic climate, that their current administration probably still feels the same way. (For what it's worth, Fresno State is also an attractive school in terms of conference expansion. All of their sports earned above a 925 in the APR and they have consistently been among the top three in the Commisioner's Cup Standings, it would stand to reason that if the MWC were looking to take another WAC school, Fresno State would be on the shortlist). A scenario in which the WAC loses Boise State, Fresno State, Nevada and Louisiana Tech is the worst-case scenario for the league but something that may not be entirely out of the equation (anything is possible these days).
So with Boise State out the door, La. Tech possibly looking to find a new, closer home and Nevada practically begging the Mountain West to let them in, where does that leave the WAC?
According to Commissioner Benson, the future of the WAC almost certainly lies in the addition of FCS teams. Those schools rumored to be on the list? Montana (which would be the best team to add from a competitive standpoint), Cal Poly, UC-Davis, Sacramento State and Texas State (it's also been rumored that Utah Valley and Denver want in the WAC, however, neither plays football).
Here's where the trouble begins. Each of those schools competes at the FCS level and the FBS level has different requirements than does the FCS level. It takes a lot of money up front to become an FBS football member. The two biggest financial hurdles are scholarships (from 63 to 85), additional coaches (FBS limits are one head coach, nine assistants and two graduate assistants, the FCS level limit is 11 coaches) and the big one, facilities which includes a stadium which will allow the school to meet the average attendance requirement of 15,000.
Of those schools mentioned on the short list, Montana is probably in the best shape facilities-wise. Their stadium, Washington-Grizzly Stadium, seats 25,200. The Grizzlies led the FCS in attendance last year averaging 24,417 per game. They are the only team on the list of potential invitees to meet the attendance requirement in 2009 (you can download the attendance figures from the NCAA's report here).
Texas State's stadium holds a little over 16,000. Their average attendance in 2009 was 12,249. UC-Davis' stadium (Aggie Stadium) only holds 10,000 of which they averaged 9,908 fans per game. Sacramento State's stadium hold 21,195 and their average attendance was 9,935. Cal Poly's stadium holds just 11,075 people. The Mustangs average 9,588 fans per game last season.
Nearly all of the teams fill their stadiums to capacity each game, however, they still fall well short of the minimum required attendance. In Texas State's case, their 2005 season was their best attended season, in 10 games they averaged 12,875 and had four of the Top 10 crowds in the stadium's history, two sellouts and then 15,411 for an NCAA quarterfinal game and 15,712 for a game against Northern Iowa. That's great, however, they would likely have to set attendance records every time out just to meet the NCAA's FBS attendance minimums.
Then there are the hidden costs. Division I members have to sponsor at least seven sports for men and seven for women (or six for men and eight for women) to meet Title IX requirements. All of the potential schools play at the Division I level in all their sports except football which plays at the FCS level. The question becomes, where does each institution get the additional money to fund the scholarships (including any additional scholarships needed to satisfy Title IX requirements) and facility upgrades? Do the schools cut other men's sports (which often time happens when budgets get tight)? Montana and Texas State field just six men's sports so that's not an option for those schools.
Unfortunately for the WAC, expansion, particularly the kind that it appears Commissioner Benson is apparently looking at (the FCS route) is not as simple as just inviting a school (which of course the Commissioner already knows we're just sharing it with you in case you didn't already know). With Boise State leaving in 2011, it's possible that the WAC could play with just eight members in 2011 which would hurt not just football but men's and women's basketball as well as the other sports in which Boise State participated.
We leave you with an excerpt from a piece from The Sports Network's Craig Haley who covers the FCS.
Montana - A move to the FBS has been talked about for a number of years in Missoula, and on the surface, this might seem to be the program best-suited for going up a division. The Grizzlies have won or shared 12 straight Big Sky titles, appeared in the FCS playoffs for 17 straight seasons as well as in the last two championship games (losing both times), and have a rabid, state-wide fan base that helped them to lead the FCS in home attendance average (24,417) in 2009. Plus the WAC would be interested should its conference need restocking. However, Montana would still need to pour millions into a move. The university would have to improve facilities, despite its expansion project at Washington-Grizzly Stadium, and you could argue that the state doesn't have a talent base suitable for the FBS level (the Bozeman Daily Chronicle reported there were only two Montana natives on FBS rosters last season). Will the fans stay interested if Montana is 4-8 and not 10-1 in the regular season?
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