Even though this could have been the promising first year of a reorganized respectable second-tier conference, the WAC as we used to know it seems pretty much dead. All the football members have left or are leaving apart from Idaho and New Mexico St.
As recently as 1995, the top three WAC teams of this year, Louisiana Tech, Utah St., and San Jose St., all competed in the Big West. Nevada, UNLV, and New Mexico St. were also in that conference, and Boise St. joined (along with Idaho) in 1996.
Which got me thinking… since there won’t be a WAC, why can’t there be a Big West in football again? I can’t think of a good reason. In football, the Big East is doing so much expanding from the area near the Mississippi River all the way to Boise and San Diego, so that can incorporate these teams while the rest of the conference can keep operating as it is already, with some possible quality expansion in other sports.
These were the teams in the WAC in 1995:
San Diego St.
Boise St. and San Diego St. are actually going to be in the Big West in other sports, and Hawaii is already there. I imagine Utah St. and San Jose St. (which appear to be headed to the Mountain West) could be brought back with just the foundation I’ve mentioned so far. BYU left the Mountain West to become independent in football (WCC in other sports, which makes less sense than the Big West would), but no currently AQ-conference has offered them a spot, and they’re naturals to be playing the likes of Boise St. and Utah St., both of which they’ve played this season.
The East-West alliance along the lines of the previously-discussed MWC-CUSA idea didn’t work out because of all the existing obligations (essentially schools could then leave without buyout fees and without paying the conference shares of post-season revenue), but all those problems aren’t here since administratively, it would still really be the Big East.
Louisiana Tech is a definite for the Conference USA, but that’s fine because they were too far to the East for the WAC anyway. The Big West football conference did extend into Arkansas and Louisiana briefly (inlcluding Louisiana Tech and UL-Lafayette, then known as the University of Southwestern Louisiana). There is a bit of a central region in the Big East as well that could provide the anticipated mega-conference some flexibility, so they’re not completely out of the question later.
The Big East has already announced plans to include Memphis, Tulane, SMU, and Houston. With the quality Western teams available, I would think Memphis and Tulane would be playing in the true Big East (by which I mean teams that would be in the Big East in other sports and in the Eastern division in football), but SMU and Houston would be good opponents for them as well. If only one of the four goes out West (in the even both Cincinnati and Connecticut find other conferences), then SMU and Houston could still be permanent opponents.
The only teams left from a couple of years ago (to make up the core of the true Big East) will be Connecticut, Cincinnati, and South Florida.
So this is what I’m thinking as a possible alignment…
|Big East||Big West|
|Central Florida||Boise St.|
|South Florida||San Diego St.|
|Future possibilities||Future possibilities|
|Louisiana Tech||San Jose St.|
*-Navy is already set to join in 2015.
Apart from Navy, the Western future possibilities are more likely in the event of more shuffling of the Eastern teams. The ACC or Big Ten could take teams from the East if they want to go to 16. If the SEC goes to 16, they would likely come from the ACC, which will probably want to replace those two. So if two teams are lost from the Eastern division, they could be replaced by SMU and Houston, whose spots in the Western division could be taken by San Jose St. and Utah St. I could also see SMU and Houston joining the Big XII to make it… wait for it, 12 teams. Then you could simply replace them with San Jose St. and Utah St. Air Force (who could of course be a permanent opponent of Navy) seems like another reasonable possibility
To balance out possible unfairness from permanent opponents, I would be in favor of only counting divisional play toward picking the contestants for the championship game, but this would not rule out one or two games against teams from the other side during the season. If Air Force and Navy were in different divisions, they would still need to play one another. I don’ t know if Army is a possibility, but just for instance, it might be that if all the Commander-in-Chief teams are in this conference, two permanent opponents would be needed. That can’t really be done if it counts as an equal conference game. Other programs may not prefer to play any inter-divisional games.
Also, if circumstances change (which seems to happen every couple of months), maybe there could be too much interest in the East and not enough in the West. Then, you could easily have Memphis and/or Tulane move to the West.
I guess we can expect the Mountain West to have a number of members suitable for a round-robin format, which is sort of why it was created around the turn of the 21st century. So in addition to the three programs mentioned as future possibilities for the Big West, the Mountain West membership includes Wyoming, Colorado St., Fresno St., and New Mexico. I started this off by mentioning Idaho and New Mexico St. They could fit right in if some of the defections take place. Another possibility would be UTEP, which is less than an hour away from New Mexico St. West Texas might be a place to make recruiting inroads. Of course, the Big East is already going to be in East Texas.
Idaho isn’t quite as great of a fit for either conference, but another possibility for Idaho is to go back to the Big Sky, which may also house future FBS programs, by the way.
Anyway, there are definitely suitable teams for an 8-10-team Mountain West as well as an 8-team Big West to be part of the football Big East.
The bowl policies are interesting here. The Fiesta Bowl currently is the Big XII champion’s default destination, but that is going to be the Sugar under the SEC-Big XII contract, so that will open up. Maybe the winner of the football Big East could play there, even if the winner were from the East. An Eastern team might be good enough for the Orange Bowl in some years, but nothing would rule out a Pac-12 or Big XII #2 team playing the MWC champions in the Fiesta Bowl if it worked out that way. I don’t think the MWC under what I’m envisioning would be a fixture in the major bowls, but there may be some years where that would be appropriate. The Cotton Bowl also seems to be taking on increasing importance, but one would think that would be a common location of the SEC-Big XII bowl in the years where the Sugar is a semifinal bowl. In other years, the football Big East might be a good fit as well, regardless of which division the winner comes from.
The Big East doesn’t have to be an unmitigated coast-to-coast disaster, but I’m afraid that is a possibility without the kind of clear direction I would like to see it have with the Western teams. Funny that just a could years ago, many (myself included) were thinking the solution might just be to make the MWC an AQ in lieu of the Big East or simply to remove the Big East from AQ status to make room for more MWC or WAC teams. Now I’m talking about a lot of the teams in question being in the same conference somehow.