The Daily Aggie :: 06/14/10

Everyone will be waiting with bated breath this week as Texas (and in turn the rest of the Big 12 south) makes its decision on which conference it will end up in. Earlier in the day was reporting that Texas was leaning toward the Pac 10 only to change that report a couple of hours later reporting that Texas is leaning towards staying in a 10-team BIg 12.

The latter could actually be more disastrous for the WAC than a mass exodus by the Big 12 south to the Pac 10. Why? Because the Pac 10, at 11 members needs to add one more to have a championship game in football (which was probably part of the goal to begin with, championship games mean more television money). That means that they would likely turn to Utah to fill the 12th spot in the league. That move could in turn could send the Mountain West back to the WAC cupboard to fill a couple more spots (it's our belief that the Mountain West wants to have 12 teams and a championship game in order to try to earn an automatic BCS bowl bid). That would mean that the MWC would likely try to pluck Fresno State and Nevada from the WAC and perhaps Houston (a travel partner for TCU) from Conference USA (who in turn might try to get Louisiana Tech to join to replace Houston, a bid that if offered would be hard to turn down for Louisiana Tech as C-USA is a better geographical fit for the Bulldogs than the WAC is). That would leave the WAC with just five members, New Mexico State, San Jose State, Idaho, Utah State and Hawai'i and in code-red status.

On Saturday we discussed what we believe to be the situation facing the WAC with regards to filling Boise State's spot.

We've had some more discussions with a few very bright people that we know and it's there's a general feeling that it will be at least two years before any of the schools mentioned in our post on Saturday would be ready to jump to the FBS level (based on the factors we outlined: facility upgrades, additional scholarships, etc.). It's entirely possible that the WAC could play three seasons (2011, 2012 and 2013) with just eight teams. As for the rest of the WAC's sports, the impact might not be lengthy. As we mentioned, all of the teams that are rumored to be candidates for the WAC play the remainder of their sports at the Division I level.

We've done some more digging and we've found that there are a couple of other obstacles standing in the WAC's path to conference expansion (for football) via adding FCS teams.

The biggest hurdle for the WAC is the current four-year moratorium enacted by the NCAA which prevents Divisional reclassification (i.e. FCS to FBS, Div. II to FCS, Div. III to Div. II). What that means is that no FCS school can even begin the paperwork for an FCS to FBS move until August 9, 2011.

In addition to the moratorium, there is a two-year transition period in which the team making the move cannot be a member of a conference. This means (if we've read everything correctly) that the earliest the WAC could add any of these teams into the conference as football members is 2014.

Perhaps the NCAA could step in and help the WAC by waiving the two year transition period, however, based on the statement put out by the NCAA this weekend regarding the expansion/contraction of conferences we find that somewhat unlikely.

"Much has been and will be written regarding conference realignment. Some “experts” have questioned where the NCAA is in this process. The answer is the NCAA is exactly where it should be—not directly in the discussion but standing ready to work with the conferences when realignment is finalized.

In reality there is neither historical precedent nor legislative authority for the NCAA to be involved in conference matters such as these. Realignment and conference expansion is solely between the individual institutions and the conferences. Over the last two decades there have been about 30 conference realignments and none involved direct discussions with the NCAA. However, we are closely monitoring the developments and potential impacts. By doing so we ensure the most appropriate and responsive support to our membership."

Through this research we've found that there is another big hurdle for a team to become an FBS member which can be found in the NCAA bylaws:

Schedule and play at least 60 percent of its football contests against members of Football Bowl Subdivision. Institutions shall schedule and play at least five regular season home contests against Football Bowl Subdivision opponents. [Bylaw]

Now, obviously if the WAC is interested in adding one of these FCS teams, then Commissioner Benson may "force" each remaining WAC team to schedule a game against the prospective member in order to help them meet that requirement. But what if the WAC loses more teams than just Boise State (such as our scenario in the beginning)? Things will definitely get a little dicey for everyone should that happen (let's hope it doesn't come to that point).

Going back to Saturday's post, one of the key hurdles for an institution making the jump from FCS to FBS is finances. Texas State put together a committee to research that move and they have published a roughly 20 page report on the subject (which you can download here).

There are a couple of key statements in there that apply not only to Texas State but to any of the six or seven FCS football playing schools rumored to be on the WAC's radar.

"Not so obvious is the relationship between student support, external support, and a successful FBS program. The Committee believes that it will be necessary for student support through the Athletics Fee to increase substantially (to a total of about $10 million per year) for a move to FBS football to be feasible. However, support from student fees is a necessary but not sufficient condition for FBS football. Strong evidence suggests that institutions that have moved to the FBS based primarily on student fees have charted a course to the bottom tier of FBS competition. For a transition to a truly competitive program, a funding pattern showing balance between student fees and other sources of revenue is essential."

The report goes on to state the Committee recommended that Texas State's athletic budget plan for the transition to FBS football be developed with the assumption that additional student support from the Athletics Fee will be complemented with comparable increases generated from multiple sources which we interpreted as a roughly $20 million increase in budget.

Additionally, the report also outlined specific financial needs including: Full funding of allowable scholarships in all sports, to include 22 additional scholarships in men's sports (to meet the 85 scholarship level of FBS) and 22 additional scholarships in women's sports (for Title IX purposes). Also, adequate funding of fifth-year scholarships and summer school scholarships which includes fifth-year and summer school scholarships in men's scholarships for 44 additional student-athletes on scholarship. And finally, travel costs which will increase in all sports with the amount contingent on conference. For the purposes of this post we're assuming membership in the WAC, that means a huge increase because Texas State plays in the Southland Conference which as you can see by the Southland's footprint below, there isn't really a long trip in the Southland.

Southland Conference Map

The longest conference road trip for Texas State is to Conway, AR, a total of 567 miles by driving. By contrast, their shortest road trip in the WAC (assuming Louisiana Tech remains in the league) is to Ruston, LA (424 miles). However, every other trip requires a plane flight instead of a potential bus ride (we don't know how Texas State travels to conference games). The trip to Las Cruces is 633 miles. Every other trip is at least 1,400 miles and then you also throw in the trips to Honolulu for men's/women's basketball and volleyball every season and football, women's soccer, softball and baseball every other season and potentially women's tennis (we're not sure exactly how the conference scheduling works with tennis).

And the reverse is true for travel for the teams currently in the WAC to Texas State in this example (which would be a fairly significant increase for all the teams except for Louisiana Tech and New Mexico State) as Boise State was somewhat centrally located to the other teams.

We're not trying to rain on anyone's expansion parade here, we're just trying to understand exactly what the ramifications of all of this conference realignment will be not just for the WAC as a whole but also for New Mexico State.

On to today's links...

Jason Groves of the Las Cruces Sun-News talks with a few of the Aggie coaches about what Boise State's move to the Mountain West means for the WAC.

Mark Bradley of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution writes that the SEC needs Texas A&M.

Aggie Men's Basketball
Eric Prisbell of the Washington Post talks about the difficulties of putting together a schedule at the mid-major level.

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