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WAC Readies to Build on New Foundation

Jan 20, 2011 – 2:05 PM
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Graham Watson

Graham Watson %BloggerTitle%

Last week, the members of the new Western Athletic Conference -- Idaho, San Jose State, Utah State, New Mexico State, Louisiana Tech, Texas State, Texas San Antonio and Denver -- were all in the same room for the first time.

They shared a meal and talked about their vision of what their new conference could look like come 2013. It was a positive meeting despite an overwhelming amount of uncertainty looming over a conference that has been raided of its top teams by the Mountain West and is struggling to hold on to its current members while trying to find new associates.

It's been a delicate line commissioner Karl Benson has walked for the past few months while trying to keep everyone happy and the rumors in check, but finally, during the dinner, the WAC was able to celebrate good news.

The NCAA passed legislation abolishing its continuity of membership clause and ultimately allowing the WAC to keep its automatic bids to all NCAA tournaments when the league goes through its membership transition after the 2012 season.

"Even though we were expecting this outcome," Benson said, "it now kind of put an end to the rumors and speculation that our AQs were in jeopardy. There was a lot of misinformation that was out there that was being used with some negative recruiting, and this will stabilize the membership in terms of NCAA issues."

But the WAC isn't quite in the clear when it comes to football.

After Boise State leaves for the Mountain West in 2011, and Fresno State, Nevada and Hawaii follow suit in 2012, the WAC will be left with just five football-playing schools. The FBS requires a conference to have at least eight football-playing schools that meet the FBS requirements. However, the WAC will be given a two-year grace period to accumulate three more football-playing teams. Texas State will be a full FBS member in 2013 and Texas San Antonio will be a full FBS member in 2014. UTSA is on a different schedule because it currently isn't even playing FCS football and to jump right into the FBS, would limit its scholarships by five and hamper the start of the program.

Benson said any other FCS schools that are invited before the summer would work on the same clock as Texas State, ultimately bringing the conference up to the required number of football-playing schools by the end of the grace period.
None of these changes will affect the WAC's standing with the BCS, which is separate from the NCAA's rules.

"We expect that beginning in 2012, we will have more than seven football-playing schools," Benson said of members such as Texas State, which will be FBS provisional in 2012. "Whether it's eight or nine, we expect at least a minimum of eight beginning in 2012 and it appears to be reasonable that we would have as many as nine football-playing schools in 2012."

While rumors have run rampant about which schools the WAC continues to court, Benson maintains that every school in the WAC footprint -- both FCS and FBS -- regardless of whether it has football or not, is in play. With that as a guideline, football-playing schools such as Sacramento State, UC Davis, Cal Poly, Lamar and Sam Houston State are candidates as well as non-football schools such as Seattle, Utah Valley and Bakersfield. FBS candidates include North Texas, which has already turned down overtures from the WAC, UTEP and some of the Louisiana schools.

Benson said he hopes to issue invitations by April 1 and finally get his league moving in a positive direction again.

"I know that there was a sigh of relief for the new schools and also for the remaining five WAC schools," Benson said of the NCAA announcement. "I think it provides momentum that will allow us now to kind of turn the page and begin the rebuilding process. Even though Texas State, San Antonio and Denver were part of the rebuilding process when we added them in November, they're now a part of the foundation and now the group of eight is new foundation of the WAC."
Filed under: Sports
Tagged: Karl Benson