Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Just stumbled across this little nugget in the Idaho Statesman. It basically outlines a WAC plan to up the status of our little conference into something more comparable to the BCS conferences, and a step ahead of conferences like the MWC and C-USA.

It's a bold plan that basically calls for drastically increasing expenditure through academic quality, stadium size and athletic competitiveness. All nine presidents signed on to the plan that basically admits we're lucky to be considered 'second-class citizens' at this point.

If it works, it's a huge coup. If it fails, the conference probably folds as Boise, Fresno and maybe Nevada bail out and head for the MWC. That leaves SJSU, Hawaii and rest of us to start a new conference that will be a poor man's version of the Big West circa 1990.

So here's my idea: Let's expand to an even 10 schools and do what we can to lure a couple MWC schools over to the WAC.

As far as expansion goes I say we target Montana. Sure, it's a smallish school (but bigger than Idaho and Louisiana Tech), in a rural town (Missoula is actually bigger than Logan, Utah; Moscow, Idaho; and Rustin, La; as well as no farther removed from civilization than those schools plus Las Cruces, NM), with small facilities (but bigger than Idaho and its 23,000 capacity is close enough to everyone but Fresno and Hawaii). What I like about Montana is that they have repeatedly shown their mettle in basketball (appeared in the last two NCAA Tourneys and beat Nevada last year), been one of the top DIAA football programs (two titles and five title game appearances since 1995), a great women's b-ball team (16 tourney appearances and a 6-16 record) and already field squads in 12 sports. They have also shown a willingness to invest in athletics as evidenced by recent expansions in the football and basketball facilities. I think they are such a strong candidate that I think they should be admitted even if the other two parts of my plan can not be fulfilled.

As far as kicking out two schools to make room for the MWC schools, the most obvious candidates are Louisana Tech and Idaho. I have no idea if this is even legal, but it certainly would be logical to get rid of these two mistakes. Both were added out of a state of desperation and neither really offer any positives. They're rural, small and unsuccessful and have bad facilities to boot. Neither seems capable of upgrading anytime soon and LATech, particularily, makes for a horrible road trip in more ways than one. Overall, they really bring the conference down in ways that New Mexico State and Utah State don't. At least those schools seem to have a pulse, have shown some committment to improving and offer something regionally. Maybe the Sunbelt and Big Sky are better fits for them, anyway.

Which brings us to the next and most far-fetched aspect of my plan: luring San Diego State and UNLV out of the MWC and into the WAC. These are the most obvious targets since they offer something regionally -- UNLV has a natural rivalry with Nevada and San Diego State fits in perfectly with SJSU and Fresno. This also makes the WAC something that much more closely resembles its orginal intention. UNLV and SDSU were two of the schools that were invited into the MWC rather than among those leading its formation, which may also make them more likely to bail.

Even if only half of these essentially five moves can be accomplished, I think this positions the WAC as a considerably strong conference. A WAC with Montana and either SDSU or UNLV and minus either LaTech or Idaho would have numerous advantages over the current configuration, one way or the other. Just getting rid of LaTech, for example, eliminates tens of thousands of miles worthe of air travel every year. Getting rid of Idaho, a school that plays football and basketball in the same facility, immediately makes the WAC look less small time. Adding SDSU gives us a foothold in SoCal. Adding UNLV gives us a great venue for postseason activity. Adding Montana gives us another exciting up-and-coming school and hopefully makes the conference more attractive to Boise, something that can't be underestimated.

Taken as a whole this conference would be a clear rival to the Mountain West and Conference USA in terms of "Best Non-BCS Conference." It would also add the possibility of having a potentially lucrative conference title game as a 10-school conference is allowed to split into two divisions and host a title game. This has the added bonus of cutting down on travel. One division would likely look like this: SJSU, SDSU, Fresno, New Mexico State and Hawaii. Another might look like this: Nevada, UNLV, Utah State, Montana and Boise. Two strong divisions that would play three-four intra-division games each football season.

I'd put this up against the MWC or C-USA anyday, which is almost exactly what this story does.


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