Before last week, the only Division I conference movement involved the Big Ten adding Nebraska, the Pacific 10 adding Colorado and Utah, and Boise State moving to Mountain West. No FCS conferences were affected.
In case you haven’t heard, the Mountain West Conference just took away Fresno State and former Big Sky member Nevada last week from the Western Athletic Conference. This was after that conference had already persuaded another former Big Sky member, Boise State, to join a few months ago from the same conference.
The Mountain West had lost Utah to the Pac-10 and was on the verge of losing Brigham Young as a football independent with the remainder of its sports heading toward the WAC. The MWC beat the WAC at the game and BYU still has a decision left.
What all this means is undoubtedly changes to the FCS West, and I’m hoping for positive changes.
So what does this conference shakeup mean to the FCS West?
In my opinion, this could mean a raid of the FCS West leagues or it could mean a growth. If you heard WAC commissioner Karl Benson, he’s targeted several west of the Mississippi schools that play at the FCS level.
“I’m sure they (Texas-San Antonio) will be on our list,” said Benson during a teleconference last week. “Texas State has also been a school that has shown tremendous potential.”
Texas State out of the Southland and football newcomer Texas-San Antonio that plays its other sports in the Southland are two FCS teams on WAC’s radar.
“(Montana) would be another prospective candidate,” Benson said.
There are reports of other Big Sky members, Portland State and Sacramento State, being in contact, to go with the biggest target of Montana. And if Montana goes, one would assume Montana State also would be in the talks. There also are reports of the two Great West California schools in Cal Poly and UC Davis.
Of the three California schools, Benson stated, “They have components that would allow them to make the move if they decided. We’ve had conversations with those schools in the past. Whether this is the time, those are institutional decisions … The WAC would look at them as potential candidates.”
To me, none of these schools is that attractive aside from Montana and possibly Texas-San Antonio to go to the FBS ranks. If you look at their history and facilities, I don’t see any of these schools moving up and being successful.
Those that support the move will boast that Portland State will have a refurbished PGE Park to play in as that city gets a Major League Soccer team next year. Sacramento State will argue that its stadium will host another professional team in the United Football League’s Sacramento Mountain Lions. Texas State has plans of updating its stadium to get near a 25,000 capacity.
While those stadiums meet the 15,000 minimum size, I have to wonder whether they can support the extra scholarships needed as well as the substantial travel increase in a conference that spreads four time zones. I also would question many of the other non-football facilities to be within the WAC, which has always been a top Division I basketball and baseball conference.
UC Davis and Cal Poly play in stadiums that do not meet the 15,000 minimum.
Even Montana would be questionable as two more sports would need to be added to get to the FBS minimum of 16.
With these WAC departures, what is left of that conference?
After the departures, the league will be down to six schools in Louisiana Tech, Idaho, Utah State, New Mexico State, San Jose State and Hawai’i. I know Benson wants to keep this lineup together as further departures could mean that automatic bids would go away.
Current membership requirement to be a viable NCAA conference is six (seven for the automatic basketball bid). In order to be considered a conference, there must be continuity of six members for five years.
What is a realistic scenario that will happen in the near future?
I don’t think a conference such as the WAC that spans four time zones and just six schools is long to live. A $5 million penalty will be paid by Nevada and Fresno State to leave the conference per a signed moratorium.
Nothing is official yet. Reports, however, are surfacing regarding the WAC. Hawai’i is trying to go independent in football while seeking a home for its other sports — reportedly in the West Coast Conference, which does not participate in football.
Louisiana Tech seems eager to join Conference USA or the Sunbelt Conference, which now look at worst equal to the new WAC and with much less travel.
No doubt New Mexico State, Idaho, Utah State and San Jose State are reviewing their options.
Utah State was invited to the Mountain West before Nevada and Fresno State, but it turned the offer down due to the binding agreement to pay $5 million and the hopes that BYU was coming to the WAC.
With both of these scenarios gone, I wonder whether Utah State would want to stay in a BYU-less WAC and with the Mountain West at 11 schools, a need is there for an additional member to play their conference title game.
That leaves three teams that will be basically homeless in the near future in New Mexico State, Idaho and San Jose State. With the Big Sky at nine members and looking for future continuity and hopes of more playoff teams, I wonder if a 12-team Big Sky Conference might be in the future with splits of east and west or north and south.
After seeing the number of CAA teams in the playoffs the last few years at four and five continuously, if I was a strong FCS conference such as the Big Sky, I would be looking to get to 12 to increase its playoff number. With a 12-team league, teams don’t have to beat one another up completely.
Using the CAA model and most 12-team Division I models, a school would play the five games against its division and three against the other division so the league could stay with eight games and keep three out-of-conference games. This also would be a benefit to the other sports as there would reduce travel.
As for the new lineup, I will suggest the following:
New Mexico State
San Jose State
Those three new teams have done little in the FBS ranks and rank near the bottom in attendance in football, but in the FCS ranks, they all could be similar to that of Montana in my opinion.
Maybe this is just wishful thinking, but I believe these three schools belong in the FCS ranks and while these schools appear to be a joke at the higher level, they could be a big force at the FCS level.
We shall see, but the unraveling has begun and for sure, we’ll see changes in the FCS West.