With the college football landscape changing at a blistering pace, the writing is on the wall for the Western Athletic Conference, which clearly lacks the clout and financial wherewithal to continue operations beyond the 2012 season.
The conference, which recently celebrated its 50th anniversary, has experienced its share of highs and lows over the years -- from BYU making its claim to the 1984 National Championship; to Boise State (2007, 2010) and Hawaii (2008) earning the league's only invites to a BCS bowl game; to the current state of disarray in which a lack of viable competitors will almost certainly preclude the WAC from existing beyond this season.
Only seven teams will participate in football this fall, as Idaho, Louisiana Tech, New Mexico State, San Jose State, Texas State, Texas-San Antonio and Utah State all vie for what will likely be the final conference crown. Five of the seven have already made arrangements to play elsewhere starting next year, with Texas State headed to the Sun Belt, LaTech and UTSA moving to Conference USA, and SJSU and USU setting up shop in the Mountain West.
Idaho has recently received permission to seek membership as a Division I Independent, and NMSU's future is unclear.
WAC Commissioner Jeff Hurd told the Denver Post earlier this week, "I think that sometime in late July it became apparent that it was unlikely we could continue with football," He went on to say, "We looked at every option we could think of. With the geography we have in terms of schools, it presents a challenge."
While Hurd's comments paint a bleak picture, a miracle could occur if somehow new members agreed to join the league at the 11th hour. The NCAA states that a conference must have a minimum of seven members to maintain its status, and Hurd is hopeful, although not very optimistic, that disaster can be averted.
"If we can't get enough league members, we can't operate as a conference. We're going to do everything possible to avoid that. There aren't any obvious answers out there."
One option may be to scuttle plans for football in 2013 with the hope of securing enough new members to build a solid foundation in other sports, and then revisit the football discussion somewhere down the line.
More realistically though, the WAC will play out this final year and quietly fade away as even non-football playing schools currently calling the conference home (Denver, Seattle University, Texas-Arlington) will likely seek refuge elsewhere in an effort to secure their long-term athletic futures.
From a national perspective, the WAC going by the wayside isn't likely to have an impact on most folks. In fact, there are some who think the league should have ceased to exist when Boise State jumped ship a couple of years ago. But there is an air of sadness associated with the end coming for something that's been an institution for half a century, regardless of whether you have followed the day-to-day operations of such an entity all that closely.
With money being the motivating factor, a slew of schools have made the decision to compete in what they perceive to be a better situation -- some are easy to understand, while others are head-scratchers. Subsequently, that movement has caused some leagues to grow stronger (SEC, Big Ten), while others appear weaker (Big 12, Big East). The WAC is the first one in jeopardy of disappearing all-together.
The nation's sixth-oldest conference, and one of the largest back in the mid-1990s when it housed as many as 16 teams, deserves better. However, the cold, harsh reality of big-time college football dictates that only the strong survive, and the WAC at this point, is anything but strong.