The WAC gets Sacked

With a series of bold moves, the WAC (Western Athletic Conference) this week tried to lure BYU from the Mountain West Conference, tried to convince Boise State to stay in the WAC, and tried to leave the Mountain West for dead. 

But the Mountain West was bigger and stronger.  It struck back, struck back quickly and struck back hard, leaving the WAC a shell with only six teams. 

The story started when BYU started planning to leave the Mountain West to become an independent in football (more on why that will not work later).  In every other sport, BYU would become a member of the WAC.

In order to secure BYU, and lure them from the Mountain West, they reportedly had each of their teams sign $5 million buyout contracts last Friday (8/13/2010) to coerce, I mean convince their existing teams to stay if offered a spot in another conference, for example the Mountain West.  The WAC was smart enough to realize that if BYU left, the Mountain West would go after a few of their teams.  This part of the deal was important to give BYU the security that they would be going to a stable conference. 

What the WAC failed to realize was the drawing power, and negotiation skills of the Mountain West.  So, as the rumors swirled, and reports came out that BYU was leaving to go to the WAC for all non-football sports, and become an independent in football, the Mountain West made offers to a few WAC teams. 

But let’s back up – what could have happened if none of the other teams took up the Mountain West on their offer.  A weakened Mountain West could have lost Boise State as well, as Boise State could go back to the WAC without penalty, which would have left the Mountain West with just TCU as its only football powerhouse.  The domino effect could have been ugly. 

While Utah State reportedly turned the Mountain West down, thinking that all of the other teams would honor the contract, Fresno State and UNR decided to jump ship and sail onto greener Mountain pastures, leaving the WAC with only six teams.

Officially, the Mountain West has stated they were going after these teams anyway.  But, if true, why not make the offers last week, before the $5 million penalty was in place. 

The reaction from the WAC was that Fresno State and UNR were being “selfish”. 

So…what does all of this mean?

First – the BYU move to the WAC is being reconsidered.  Whether or not BYU leaves the Mountain West for another conference (or even the almost-dead WAC) remains to be seen.  But since the powerhouses of the WAC are all gone, the deal has soured. 

Secondly – the WAC is currently down to six teams – New Mexico State, Utah State, Hawaii, Idaho, Louisiana Tech and San Jose State.  It is also being reported that Hawaii may also be considering going independent.  But the WAC needs at least 8 teams in order to remain a Division 1 conference. 

The WAC is looking for other teams, but do not have much drawing power.  They are reportedly looking into Football Championship Subdivision teams such as Montana or Sacramento State.  With the remaining teams lacking any football power, and the teams they are looking at adding lacking football power, it is a sure bet that the WAC teams will not be invited to any BCS games any time soon.  (We will see a new baseball stadium in Las Vegas before that happens).

Finally – if I were Utah State, I would be on the phone with the Mountain West seeing if the offer was still good. 

Now back to BYU.  The idea of BYU becoming an independent does not make sense on a lot of levels.  There is the issue with scheduling games.  While Notre Dame can get on the schedules of quality teams during conference play, BYU just does not have that type of drawing power. Notre Dame has a century of tradition behind it.  Without quality opponents, there is no chance of BYU getting ranked high enough to go to a BCS game and BYU should just stay with the Mountain West. 

Plus, let’s face it, if BYU were capable of beating a TCU, maybe they would have actually gone to a BCS game. 

Then there’s the issue where BYU would like to make more revenue off a television contract.  The plan would be for BYU to use their own network for some of the games, and a mainstream network for the rest.  Without quality opponents, would a mainstream network like ESPN even want to broadcast the games that are not on the BYU network? Plus BYU would be competing with other established conferences for air time. 

I for one have no idea where the BYU channel is on my television.  I doubt many other people do either.  It definitely is not near the other sports channels. This would hamper ratings. 

The Mountain West is currently looking into ways to improve their television deal, as well as its BCS chances.  It would make more sense for BYU to stay in the Mountain West, and negotiate to show some of their sporting events on the BYU channel, and others on an improved television deal.

The Mountain West is a lot stronger now with the additions of Fresno State and UNR, so an 11-team conference with BYU makes sense. 

Now the icing on the cake – Craig Thompson, Mountain West Commissioner, reportedly met with Conference USA Commissioner Britton Banowsky to discuss mutual issues.  Could a merger be in the works to create a mega-conference?  Only time will tell.  Or maybe a partnership – one line of thinking is that the Mountain West champion would play the C-USA champion, with the winner going to a BCS game. 

Could this be possible?  Again – only time will tell.  But, after all of this, the only one left in the cold, and completely out of expansion talks, and any BCS possibilities, is the WAC.

Column written by Joe Buda 

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