Denver’s planned future home, the WAC, may not be a zombie conference after all.
On Thursday, the NCAA’s Legislative Council approved and adopted “Proposal 2010-100,” abolishing the “continuity clause” that required conferences to have at least six schools that have been together in the conference for at least five years. The WAC was scheduled to lose that status in 2012 and had no hope of regaining it until 2017 at the earliest, which would have meant no automatic bids for the league till then, which would almost certainly have led to further defections and the eventual dissolution of the conference.
Instead, conferences now must simply have at least “seven active Division I members,” all of which sponsor men’s basketball, and six that sponsor at least five other sports (including football). And if a conference falls below those numbers, there’s a two-year grace period to pull themselves back up.
That gives the WAC, which is scheduled to have eight basketball members (three of them newbies) and seven football members starting in 2012-13, a bit of much-needed breathing room.
Crucially, even if the WAC loses another one of its “core” teams — like, say, if Utah State joins the Mountain West — they can simply plug in another team to replace ‘em, without it having any impact of the conference’s legal status. (Not that losing USU wouldn’t still be a big blow, but it wouldn’t be so because of NCAA legislation.)
I’m still a little unclear on whether six teams is now sufficient in football for all purposes, or whether there’s still an eight-team requirement that affects BCS non-AQ qualification and such. Either way, the WAC is still certainly going to want more members — and with the league’s stability seemingly a bit more assured now, Karl Benson thinks that may happen:
“There are schools that have indicated they are ready to accept invitations,” Benson said [Friday]. … Benson said additions could be announced as early as April 1.
While declining to name any football schools, Benson did say Seattle University, California State-Bakersfield and Utah Valley will be assessed as non-football members.
“We started the process today of evaluating a pool of potential candidates,” he said. “That’s all I can tell you. I don’t think staying at eight (members) is one of our preferred options. Our preference is to get to 10, maybe even 12.”
Multiple sources, one of which attended Friday’s meeting, told the Express-News recently the list of football candidates includes, but is not necessarily limited to, Louisiana-Lafayette, Lamar, Sam Houston State, California-Davis, Portland State and Cal Poly.
The sources also said the WAC could make fresh runs at Montana and North Texas, both of which turned down invitations last November. If Montana were to be approached again, one of the sources said, Montana State would likely be considered as well.
Needless to say, a league of Utah State, Idaho, New Mexico State, Louisiana Tech, San Jose State, Denver, Texas State, Texas-San Antonio, and — say — Seattle, CSU-Bakersfield, Portland State and Cal Poly isn’t going to set the world on fire. All the moreso if Utah State defects, replaced perhaps by Utah Valley State (which is sort of like replacing the New England Patriots with the Oakland Raiders and calling it an even trade). You know it’s a bad sign when you’re thinking that landing North Texas would be a real coup, and nabbing the dynamic duo of Montana and Montana State would mean you’ve hit the jackpot.
Still, even that fairly awful lineup of teams, or one similar, might be relatively stable enough for the WAC to stay alive — which is more than you could say a few days ago.
Benson has previously said he liked the idea of having 9 football members and 1 non-football member, for scheduling reasons, with Denver filling the latter niche. Montana’s rejection and Hawaii’s defection spoiled those best-laid plans, leaving the WAC at 7 and 1 instead. If they’re seriously considering Seattle U. and those other non-football schools, I’m guessing maybe he’s now thinking 9 in football plus 3 non-football, for 12 total. (Hence my hypothetical 12-team lineup above.)
That said, the WAC isn’t out of the woods yet, in terms of defections:
Despite the new rules, Benson acknowledged that losing more members is still a concern.
He said the WAC will keep a close eye on a Jan. 24 meeting of the Mountain West Conference, at which the league is expected to decide whether to remain at 10 members or expand to 12.
If the league chooses to expand, Utah State would likely be a strong candidate. The league could also pry a team loose from Conference USA, long considered a possible destination for Louisiana Tech.
“Unfortunately, we’re kind of held at bay until the Mountain West makes their decision,” Benson said. “Obviously there are WAC schools that might be on the list. It’s something we have to recognize as a possibility. We are certainly hoping there isn’t any further deletion.”
The key point, though, is that further “deletions” won’t necessarily be fatal, as they would have been before the NCAA made this change. So I think we can upgrade the WAC from a zombie state to critical condition.
I remain uncertain as to whether the WAC would ultimately survive a Utah State defection, as USU’s presence still feels central to the league’s rationale for continuing to exist, and if the Aggies go, maybe Louisiana Tech also jumps, and San Jose State dissolves its football program, and the whole thing goes bust.
But while uncertainties and worst-case scenarios remain, I’d now say that, unlike 48 hours ago, the odds probably favor the conference surviving at least a few more years. I’d now wager that Denver will, indeed, actually join the WAC in 2012.
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