Utah State is still a member of the Western Athletic Conference. And that’s not going to change anytime soon.
But Boise State is now headed the the Mountain West to, essentially, replace Utah.
Where, then, does that leave the WAC? What will happen to the league in the near future and how will everything impact Utah State as it tries to climb into college football relevance?
Now at eight schools given Boise State’s departure, the WAC does not need to expand. Eight schools had been a standard number in numerous conferences for decades before 10 and then 12 became all the rage.
Should the WAC decide to expand again there are few schools in the conference ‘footprint’ that remotely resemble attractive options.
Let’s take a look at who might be considered for WAC expansion if the league decides it needs more than eight schools.
The most-obvious school is Montana. The Grizzlies have an outstanding I-AA, err, Football Championship Subdivision football team and a respectable basketball program with a good run of success and even an NCAA tournament win in the last decade. As a member of the Big Sky Conference, Montana has been the class of the league in most regards. The Griz are by far the biggest draw in the state and play before crowds certain WAC schools can only dream of. The basketball arena is not huge, but is a nice facility nonetheless.
All those positives aside, Montana does have negatives — primarily the strong likelihood the Griz would require Montana State be invited to join the WAC as a package deal. Montana might be a good fit in the WAC — Montana State is not.
Next are other Big Sky schools such as Portland State, Sacramento State and Weber State. The Wildcats from Ogden present an interesting option with a decent football program in recent years and a very good basketball team. But much like Utah and BYU kept USU out of the WAC so long ago, it’s not likely Utah State would go along with inviting their next-door neighbors to the table. Portland State and Sacramento State have intriguing markets but nobody in those markets seems to know they exist.
Would the WAC consider expansion outside the ‘footprint?’
If so, there are few schools that jump out as obvious candidates. Would North Texas, a school USU has a little history with, be a candidate? The Mean Green is just finishing up a massive athletic facility upgrade project but that doesn’t mean anyone will watch what has been among the worst football programs in the country for a decade or more.
Still, the market and facilities — plus what is seen as a desire to join the WAC according to a few college sports officials in the Texas area I have spoken to in the past week or two — could make North Texas a target.
But if Texas is an area the WAC wants to look into, why not look at Houston, SMU and UTEP?
Primarily because there is no real advantage for those schools in jumping from Conference USA to the WAC. Houston and Idaho make as much sense as conference mates as UTEP and East Carolina. So I don’t see any real incentive to rock that boat for those schools.
Another idea one person at a WAC school, but not Utah State, floated at me was inviting North Texas to give the WAC nine football schools and also invite the University of Denver to give the conference ten schools in most other sports as well as a team in the state where the conference offices are still located.
My feeling is the WAC will not make any moves soon. There’s no reason to expand just for expansion’s sake and, frankly, there are no schools that jump out and make a ton of sense.