2010–13 Western Athletic Conference realignment
The 2010–13 Western Athletic Conference realignment refers to the Western Athletic Conference (WAC) dealing with several proposed and actual conference expansion and reduction plans among various NCAA conferences and institutions from 2010 to 2013. Moves involving the WAC were a significant part of a much larger NCAA conference realignment in which it was one of the most impacted conferences. Of the nine members of the WAC in 2010, only two—the University of Idaho and New Mexico State University—remained in the conference beyond the 2012–13 school year, and Idaho departed for the Big Sky Conference after the 2013–14 school year. Five pre-2010 members are now all-sports members of the Mountain West Conference (MW), and another joined the MW for football only while placing most of its other sports in the Big West Conference. Another pre-2010 member joined Conference USA (C-USA) in July 2013.
After the first defections from the conference were announced in 2010 and 2011, the WAC attempted to reload by bringing in five new members for 2012, but four of these soon announced moves to other conferences that took effect in 2013, with Seattle University being the only 2012 entrant to remain in the WAC beyond the 2012–13 school year. The WAC added six new members in 2013.
These moves resulted in the WAC dropping football as a league-sponsored sport after the 2012 season; it became the first NCAA Division I FBS conference to drop the sport since the Big West did the same after the 2000 season. The only two remaining football schools, Idaho and New Mexico State, became independent programs for the 2013 season and returned to football-only membership in the Sun Belt Conference starting in 2014 (both had been either all-sports or football members of the Sun Belt in the early 2000s).
The WAC was founded in 1962 by six schools in the interior West, five public and one private—the University of Arizona, Arizona State University, Brigham Young University (BYU), the University of New Mexico, the University of Utah, and the University of Wyoming. The creation of the WAC directly led to the demise of the Border Intercollegiate Athletic Association (or Border Conference) and Mountain States Conference (popularly known as the Skyline Eight), and soon led to the creation of the Big Sky Conference in 1963.
The conference added two more schools later in the 1960s, with Colorado State University and the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP) arriving in 1967. The WAC's competitive balance, especially in football, became heavily skewed in the 1970s toward the Arizona schools due to rapid growth in that state, and they would leave in 1978 to expand the Pacific-8 Conference into the Pacific-10. San Diego State University joined at the time the two Arizona schools left; the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa (Hawaiʻi or UH) joined the following year, and the United States Air Force Academy (Air Force) arrived in 1980. The conference then remained stable for more than a decade, with the next change being the addition of California State University, Fresno (Fresno State) in 1992.
In 1996, the demise of the Southwest Conference (SWC) led to a major conference realignment. The WAC took advantage of the changing landscape to expand to 16 members. Three SWC members left out of the soon-to-launch Big 12 Conference—Rice University, Southern Methodist University (SMU), and Texas Christian University (TCU)—all joined the WAC, as did San Jose State University and the University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV) from the Big West, plus the University of Tulsa, a Division I-A football independent which had been a member of the non-football Missouri Valley Conference. However, CBSSports.com writer Matt Hinton would say in 2012 that the expansion "quickly divided the league between old members and new." The league now spanned from Hawaii to Oklahoma—a distance of about 3,900 miles (6,300 km) and four time zones. Originally, the league was divided into four "quads" with four members each, but this setup soon proved unsatisfactory to several members, most notably BYU and Utah, who proposed a permanent split into eight-team divisions in 1998. This proposal created further problems, because the geographic distribution of the 16 members meant that a clean north-south or east-west split was impossible. While New Mexico and UTEP agreed to move to a proposed East Division, Air Force and UNLV were unhappy; Karl Benson, who was WAC commissioner during this period, recalled in 2011 that Air Force threatened to go independent. Soon, the presidents of Air Force, BYU, Colorado State, Utah, and Wyoming, a group that Benson would later call the "Gang of Five", met at Denver International Airport and quickly decided to form a new league. They invited New Mexico, San Diego State, and UNLV to join them to form what would become the Mountain West Conference, which launched in 1999.
After this upheaval, the WAC saw further movement in the 2000s. In 2000, the University of Nevada, Reno (Nevada) joined from the Big West. A year later, the Big West dropped football. While four schools from that conference, all within the WAC's geographic footprint, wanted to continue in football, only Boise State University was invited at that time. Louisiana Tech University, a Division I-A independent and otherwise a member of the Sun Belt Conference, also joined in 2001, while TCU left for C-USA. The WAC saw further membership turnover in 2005. Rice, SMU, Tulsa, and UTEP left for C-USA, while the three former Big West football schools that had been left out of the 2001 expansion—Idaho, New Mexico State, and Utah State University—all joined.
The early-2010s realignment cycle began in 2010, after both the Big Ten Conference and Pacific-10 Conference (now Pac-12) announced plans to expand to 12 members. Brett McMurphy, formerly of CBSSports.com and now with ESPN.com, would sum up the fallout in 2012:
It was [Big Ten commissioner] Jim Delany's cow in a Chicago barn that kicked over the lantern that started the country's conference realignment inferno. After that it was a hundred reactionary moves from other conference commissioners, shoring up their ranks, while scorching college football's landscape. The other 10 [FBS] conferences may have had some hardships, but they will all survive. It's the WAC that got burned to a crisp.
During the week of June 7, 2010, amid rumors surrounding Boise State's future in the WAC, the conference held a meeting of its athletic directors and university presidents in Las Vegas to discuss contingency options. The conference fully expected to lose Boise State, and according to WAC commissioner Karl Benson, there was no bitterness toward BSU by the rest of the current membership. Benson also added that the WAC was considering expanding itself, with the conference eyeing up to six current members of the second-tier Football Championship Subdivision.
Boise State left the WAC for the Mountain West at the end of the 2010–2011 season. On August 18, 2010, Nevada (Reno) and Fresno State were both extended invitations to join the Mountain West Conference, and subsequently accepted.
Four months later, Hawaiʻi also left for the Mountain West, but as a football-only member. Hawaiʻi's other sports joined the Big West. The most dominant football member of the remaining WAC had been considering football independence. With a guaranteed bowl berth into the Hawaiʻi Bowl each year, the Warriors could have negotiated their own TV deal and kept all of the profits. An NCAA rule that allows any team willing to travel to Hawaiʻi to play a 13th regular-season game (which, in practice, means an extra home game) makes it easier for the Warriors to schedule other opponents.
Utah State turned down an offer from the Mountain West at the same time that Fresno State and Nevada accepted theirs, believing that the WAC schools were going to stay together and even be stronger with the possible addition of BYU. After Fresno State and Nevada accepted invitations to the Mountain West it was reported that the WAC had extended invitations to the University of North Texas and University of Louisiana at Lafayette of the Sun Belt Conference. Both schools however declined the invitations to the WAC.
On Sep. 28, 2010, the WAC heard presentations from five schools in an effort to replenish their ranks after Boise State, Fresno State, and Nevada leave for the Mountain West. The schools that made presentations were:
- Three schools with FCS football programs—Texas State University–San Marcos (Texas State), a full member of the Southland Conference; the University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA), a non-football member of the Southland Conference that was originally scheduled to start FCS football in that conference in 2011; and the University of Montana from the Big Sky Conference. All three were being considered as football members.
- Two schools that do not sponsor varsity football—Seattle University, a Division I independent, and the University of Denver from the Sun Belt Conference.
The WAC stated at the time that they planned to issue invitations within 30 to 60 days of hearing the presentation. On November 11, the WAC announced that Denver, UTSA, and Texas State would join the WAC for the 2012–13 season for all sports (with the exception of Denver, which does not sponsor varsity football).
During a September interview with WAC commissioner Karl Benson the only school invited to a private meeting for possible expansion of teams was Montana. However, on November 11, Montana decided to remain a Football Championship Subdivision school in the Big Sky Conference.
On June 14, 2011, the WAC added Division I independent Seattle University, who had been seeking membership to the WCC in the past. Exactly one month later on July 14, the WAC added UT-Arlington from the Southland Conference.
On December 7, 2011 Boise State announced it would return its non-football sports to the WAC in 2013 when it begins playing football with the Big East. Later, Boise State chose to instead place their non-football sports in the Big West Conference, and still later due to further membership changes in the Big East, Boise State decided to stay in the Mountain West.
This would have put the WAC at 11 full members, seven football and two non-football (Seattle, Denver, UT-Arlington, and Boise State), one football team short of the eight required for FBS conferences.
However, in the last days of April 2012, multiple media outlets indicated that six teams—three of which had not yet officially joined the conference—would shortly leave the WAC for other conferences. UTSA, which had yet to join the WAC, declared its intent to join Conference USA in 2013, with Louisiana Tech seen as likely to follow suit. Utah State and San Jose State declared their intent to join the Mountain West Conference in 2013. Another report indicated that Texas State and UT-Arlington, which were set to join the WAC alongside UTSA in 2012, would leave for the Sun Belt Conference effective in 2013. This would leave the WAC with only 5 full members, 2 football and 3 non-football.
The first of these schools to make its departure official was Texas State, which announced its move to the Sun Belt on May 2. Two days later, Louisiana Tech and UTSA accepted invitations from C-USA, and San Jose State and Utah State announced their departure for the Mountain West.
Due to the Western Athletic Conference being "raided" by the Mountain West Conference, Conference USA, and the Sun Belt Conference, it was initially unknown what path the WAC would take. After these moves, the WAC was down to only two football programs for the 2013 season – New Mexico State University and the University of Idaho. Since the WAC was not be able to sponsor football for the 2013 season (eight teams are needed for a conference to sponsor football at the FBS level); NMSU and Idaho became FBS independents for the 2013 season before becoming football-only members of the Sun Belt in 2014.
The WAC seemingly secured its continued existence as a non-football conference, at least for the time being, when it announced on October 9, 2012 that California State University, Bakersfield and Utah Valley University would join the conference starting with the 2013–14 school year. Cal State Bakersfield had previously been independent, and had become a WAC affiliate in baseball for 2012–13. Utah Valley joins from the Great West Conference. Interim WAC commissioner Jeff Hurd added that the WAC was seeking to add further schools, with an immediate goal of eight members and a longer-term goal of 10. However, Hurd's job became more difficult on October 19 when Idaho announced it would move its non-football sports to the Big Sky Conference in July 2014. In addition, Denver announced it was joining The Summit League in 2013. The WAC countered this move with inviting Division II Grand Canyon University to join the conference, who accepted. The conference added another member from the disintegrating Great West on December 5, announcing the 2013 arrival of Chicago State University. An invitation has also been extended to the Great West's University of Texas-Pan American, which was accepted on December 19.
By adding these last Great West Conference schools the WAC was able to return to seven schools, which under current NCAA rules a Division I conference that drops below seven members must do within two years to avoid losing its automatic bids to the NCAA men's and women's basketball tournaments. Then, on February 7, 2013, the University of Missouri-Kansas City announced that it had accepted an invitation to join the WAC, bringing the membership to nine for 2013-14 and eight after Idaho departs.
|School||Sport(s)||Former conference||New conference||Date move was announced||Expected year move takes effect|
|Boise State Broncos||Full membership||WAC||Mountain West||June 11, 2010||2011|
|Fresno State Bulldogs||Full membership||WAC||Mountain West||August 18, 2010||2012|
|Nevada Wolf Pack||Full membership||WAC||Mountain West||August 18, 2010||2012|
|UTSA Roadrunners||Full membership||Southland||WAC||November 10, 2010||2012|
|Texas State Bobcats||Full membership||Southland||WAC||November 10, 2010||2012|
|Denver Pioneers||Full membership (non-football)||Sun Belt||WAC||November 10, 2010||2012|
|Hawaiʻi (Rainbow) Warriors and Rainbow Wahine||Full membership (non-football)||WAC||Big West||December 10, 2010||2012|
|Hawaiʻi Warriors||Football||WAC||Mountain West||December 10, 2010||2012|
|Hawaiʻi Rainbow Wahine||Women's indoor track and field, women's swimming and diving||WAC||MPSF||December 10, 2010||2012|
|Hawaiʻi Rainbow Warriors||Men's swimming and diving||WAC||MPSF||December 10, 2010||2012|
|BYU Cougars||Softball||Mountain West||WAC||January 27, 2011||2012|
|Seattle Redhawks||Full membership (non-football)||Independent||WAC||June 14, 2011||2012|
|Seattle Redhawks||Softball||PCSC||WAC||June 14, 2011||2012|
|Seattle Redhawks||Women's golf||WCC||WAC||June 14, 2011||2012|
|North Dakota Fighting Sioux||Women's swimming and diving||Great West||WAC||June 15, 2011||2012|
|Boise State Broncos||Women's gymnastics||WAC||Independent||July 1, 2011||2011|
|UT Arlington Mavericks||Full membership (non-football)||Southland||WAC||July 14, 2011||2012|
|CSU Bakersfield Roadrunners||Baseball||Independent||WAC||September 19, 2011||2012|
|Dallas Baptist Patriots||Baseball||Independent||WAC||September 19, 2011||2012|
|BYU Cougars||Softball||WAC||PCSC||December 12, 2011||2012|
|Texas State Bobcats||Full membership||WAC||Sun Belt||May 2, 2012||2013|
|Louisiana Tech Bulldogs and Lady Techsters||Full membership||WAC||C-USA||May 4, 2012||2013|
|San Jose State Spartans||Full membership||WAC||Mountain West||May 4, 2012||2013|
|Utah State Aggies||Full membership||WAC||Mountain West||May 4, 2012||2013|
|UTSA Roadrunners||Full membership||WAC||C-USA||May 4, 2012||2013|
|UT Arlington Mavericks||Full membership (non-football)||WAC||Sun Belt||May 24, 2012||2013|
|Boise State Broncos||Women's gymnastics||Independent||WAC||June 14, 2012||2012|
|Dallas Baptist Patriots||Baseball||WAC||MVC||August 20, 2012||2013|
|New Mexico State Aggies||Football||WAC||Independent||September 12, 2012||2013|
|CSU Bakersfield Roadrunners||Full membership||Independent||WAC||October 9, 2012||2013|
|CSU Bakersfield Roadrunners||Men's and women's outdoor track & field, women's tennis||Great West||WAC||October 9, 2012||2013|
|CSU Bakersfield Roadrunners||Softball||PCSC||WAC||October 9, 2012||2013|
|Utah Valley Wolverines||Full membership (non-wrestling)||Great West||WAC||October 9, 2012||2013|
|Utah Valley Wolverines||Softball||PCSC||WAC||October 9, 2012||2013|
|Idaho Vandals||Football||WAC||Independent||October 19, 2012||2013|
|Idaho Vandals||Full membership (non-football)||WAC||Big Sky||October 19, 2012||2014|
|Denver Pioneers||Full membership (non-football; except gymnastics, hockey, men's and women's lacrosse, and skiing)||WAC||The Summit||November 27, 2012||2013|
|Grand Canyon Antelopes||Full membership||PacWest (D-II)||WAC||November 27, 2012||2013|
|Chicago State Cougars||Full membership||Great West||WAC||December 5, 2012||2013|
|Northern Colorado Bears||Baseball||Great West||WAC||December 12, 2012||2013|
|Texas–Pan American Broncs||Full membership||Great West||WAC||December 19, 2012||2013|
|Air Force Falcons||Men's soccer||MPSF||WAC||January 9, 2013||2013|
|CSU Bakersfield Roadrunners||Men's soccer||MPSF||WAC||January 9, 2013||2013|
|Houston Baptist Huskies||Men's soccer||MPSF||WAC||January 9, 2013||2013|
|San Jose State Spartans||Men's soccer||MPSF||WAC||January 9, 2013||2013|
|Seattle Redhawks||Men's soccer||MPSF||WAC||January 9, 2013||2013|
|UNLV Rebels||Men's soccer||MPSF||WAC||January 9, 2013||2013|
|UMKC Kangaroos||Full membership||The Summit||WAC||February 7, 2013||2013|
|North Dakota athletics||Baseball||Great West||WAC||February 11, 2013||2013|
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- From 1978 through 2005, the football grouping now known as Division I FBS was known as Division I-A.
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