Philadelphia, PA – It wasn't that long ago that the Western Athletic Conference was making noise on the football field, with seldom-seen programs like Boise State, Fresno State, Hawaii and Nevada all clamoring for national attention.
The Broncos have had one of the best records since joining the Football Bowl Subdivision of any team in the country, regardless of league affiliation, and the Bulldogs, under the direction of head coach Pat Hill, were willing to play any opponent, anywhere, anytime. Hawaii's Colt Brennan was setting passing records and leading the Warriors into the national rankings and a BCS postseason appearance, while Hall of Fame head coach Chris Ault was forcing opponents to try and defend his unique Pistol Offense as the Wolf Pack set offensive standards that are difficult to match.
However, the changing landscape in college sports, with the almighty dollar being the impetus for massive shifts in program alignment, has caused a conference like the WAC to fall apart at the seams and practically dissolve before our eyes.
Boise State was the first school to make a course correction and join up with the Mountain West Conference, somewhat of a lateral move considering both the WAC and MWC were seen as second-tier conferences. The Broncos met with immediate success in 2011 with a record of 6-1 in league play and 12-1 overall, losing only to TCU by a single point, 36-35, during the second week of November. Unfortunately, that lone setback kept BSU from making an appearance in another BCS bowl game and instead was left to demolish Arizona State, 56-24, in the Las Vegas Bowl.
The Broncos are slated to play another year in the MWC before presumably joining the ranks of the Big East Conference, a move that was a head-scratcher to begin with given Idaho's location on the map. Initially the move was meant to give Boise State a chance at an automatic bid to a BCS game, but the Big East isn't assured anything anymore and that has the Broncos questioning their decision to make such a drastic move and perhaps stay where they are and make a go of it in the MWC instead.
So, with Boise State having abandoned the WAC, the pressure was on for Fresno State, Hawaii and Nevada to carry the league but they too have decided that the Mountain West is a better place for them and they will be joining forces with the Broncos, at least for the time being.
The evolution of college football has diluted more than enhanced the Western Athletic Conference, an entity that began in 1962 and should be basking in the glow of five decades of sportsmanship and high-caliber competition instead of being on life-support, ever so close to extinction.
Entering the 2012 campaign there are now just seven schools that make up the WAC when it comes to football. Louisiana Tech, the league champion from a year ago, sported a record of 6-1 in conference but was just 8-5 overall so those Bulldogs are still fighting an uphill battle for recognition. The other hold- overs from a year ago are Utah State, San Jose State, New Mexico State and Idaho, the latter thinking about possibly dropping back down to the Football Championship Subdivision which is a move that is almost unheard of these days.
This just in...Idaho's flirtation with perhaps rejoining the Big Sky Conference at the FCS level might not be that far off base. The LaTech Bulldogs made the announcement earlier this month that they are leaving for Conference USA as of July 1, 2013 and both USU and SJSU have held press briefings to declare their intentions to jump to the MWC on that same date as well. With those moves and the potential for the Vandals to drop down a level in competition, NMSU might have to consider a similar fate since the program has under-performed against FBS opponents.
Typically, expansion is the goal of most conferences, if for no other reason than to become eligible to produce a league championship game even before the real postseason begins. That was the plan for this conference before all of the notable defections, and that brings us to another chapter in the book of WAC football.
Ready to make their mark on the WAC are Texas State and Texas-San Antonio, a couple of institutions that combined educate more than 65,000 students in the Lone Star State. Reeling in UTSA wasn't all that difficult, considering 2011 was the first year that the school even fielded a football team.
Larry Coker, the head coach for the Roadrunners of UTSA, was hired in hopes of giving the program instant credibility and the school has certainly used his resume' to its advantage, highlighting his 2001 National Championship with the Miami Hurricanes and his selection as National Coach of the Year on two occasions. However, UTSA is still going to experience significant growing pains following an inaugural season which resulted in a 4-6 record, half of those victories coming against programs such as Bacone and Minot State.
The Bobcats of Texas State certainly have much more of a history when it comes to playing football, but that doesn't mean they'll be competing for a league title any time soon. Head coach Dennis Franchione, who has made previous stops at New Mexico, TCU, Alabama and Texas A&M, is back for his second term with the Bobcats after guiding the squad for a couple of years two decades ago and that should attract future recruits, but not guarantee tallies in the win column just yet.
So, the future of the WAC appears to be in the hands of new additions Texas State and UTSA, right? Not so fast.
The Roadrunners and Bobcats are only making pit stops in the WAC, the former heading to Conference USA and the latter the Sun Belt Conference a year from now, so go out right away and buy all of that team apparel with the Western Athletic logos because they're bound to be collectors items. Treating a league like a stepping stone was something that former WAC Commissioner Karl Benson would have railed against, but he's no longer in charge and unwritten rules simply do not apply anymore.
By the way, the Sun Belt's new commissioner is the aforementioned Benson, who had been the WAC's head man since 1994 before he too took the leap from that sinking ship. Coincidence? You be the judge.
What the future holds for the WAC is anyone's guess, but the fact that even the latest additions to the conference don't intend to stick around beyond this season could signal the beginning of the end.