Did the Mountain West Just Cannibalize the WAC?

Posted by rtmsf on August 19th, 2010

Andrew Murawa is the RTC correspondent for the Mountain West and Pac-10 Conferences and an occasional contributor.

Just a few hours ago, the Mountain West Conference was being left for dead. BYU was on its way to football independence and a WAC address for the rest of its sports, Boise State was potentially considering changing its mind about a move to the MWC, and we were contemplating a landscape in college athletics without the MWC, inarguably the most successful football non-BCS conference and also one of the most successful non-BCS basketball conferences. But MWC commissioner Craig Thompson was able to get quick agreements from Fresno State and Nevada to leave the WAC and join the MWC possibly beginning in 2011, although it could be pushed back to 2012 for financial considerations.

Thompson May Have Just Saved His League

The status of BYU is still somewhat in doubt as no official announcement regarding their future has been made. As of now, according to Thompson, “BYU is a member of the Mountain West Conference.” Given that the WAC is now comprised of just six teams, it is possible that BYU may reconsider and remain in the MWC as if nothing happened. Certainly the MWC would take them back without a second thought. Or, if BYU is still set on independence for its football program, it may look into the WCC as a potential home for it non-football teams.

Earlier in the day, it had been reported that all the schools in the WAC had last week signed a five-year agreement to remain in the WAC with a $5 million buyout penalty for leaving, and, as it turns out, it was BYU who instigated the buyout, hoping it was assuring a safe landing place for the Cougar non-football sports when they left the MWC. However, it turns out that Nevada never signed the agreement, although they did verbally agree to it, so they will have to pay some sort of exit fee, with the $5 million being the ceiling. However, if the WAC ceases to exist (a distinct possibility), it is possible that both Fresno State, who apparently signed the agreement, and Nevada will not have to pay the buyout penalty at all. If they wind up having to pay fees to the WAC for leaving, the MWC will aid those schools in paying their buyout penalties. According to Thompson, “We’re not going to bankrupt them to come into the Mountain West Conference.”

So, here’s where we stand. As of now, the MWC is comprised of 11 teams, a number that includes BYU. The addition of Nevada and Fresno State makes a lot of sense for the league, as Nevada is a logical travel partner and automatic rival for UNLV, while Fresno State adds another California team to pair with San Diego State. The WAC is down to six teams: Hawai’i, Idaho, Louisiana Tech, New Mexico State, San Jose State and Utah State. Hawai’i has already mentioned that they may explore going independent, given their geographical difficulties with finding a league that fits. Teams like San Jose State, Idaho and Utah State are likely going to have trouble finding a FBS landing spot for their football programs, although they could find a spot for their basketball programs quite easily. New Mexico State and Louisiana Tech could wind up getting contacted by either the Sun Belt or Conference USA, but as of right now, let’s just say its been a very bad day for the WAC and its remaining member institutions.  Commissioner Karl Benson certainly has his work cut out for him.

Whither the WAC?

With the MWC currently sitting at 11 teams, it could possibly be looking for a twelfth team to add to even up the league numbers and potentially set up a conference championship game in football. , Houston from Conference USA has been mentioned as one possibility, although it remains possible that the MWC could throw a lifeline to Utah State or New Mexico State, teams within the current footprint of the league. And, of course, all that is assuming BYU now stays in the conference. If BYU still leaves, the MWC is back to ten teams and would likely stay put and still be able to play a full home-and-home round robin in basketball.

Certainly there will be a lot of fallout from today’s dramatic events over the next few days, weeks, and really, even years, and BYU just earned itself even more difficult road games in the upcoming MWC season, but for now, fans of the MWC can let out a big huge sigh of relief, while fans of the WAC, fans of its member institutions and commissioner Benson are left wondering where it all fell apart.

rtmsf (3954 Posts)

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2 responses to “Did the Mountain West Just Cannibalize the WAC?”

  1. bevo says:

    Given the severe financial difficulties facing both Fresno State and Nevada, I cannot imagine where their respective athletics programs can find $5 million apiece. If their presidents locate the money AND the faculty do not riot in the streets, then the presidents should fire the entire faculties, replacing them with adjuncts.

  2. Andrew M says:


    “If they wind up having to pay fees to the WAC for leaving, the MWC will aid those schools in paying their buyout penalties. According to Thompson, “We’re not going to bankrupt them to come into the Mountain West Conference.”

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