Cal State-Bakersfield WAC exit could spell future change for DU

Will Cal State-Bakersfield’s announced exit from the Western Athletic Conference (WAC)  start the conference realignment dominoes falling? With UMKC rumored as a potential Summit League target, the WAC  could be down to seven schools – even with the recent addition of California Baptist.

Bakersfield applied for Big West membership in 2010, but was rejected and has been a member of the WAC since. The addition of CSU-Bakersfield maintains balance as (5) members of the Big West are part of the Cal State system while 5 are from the University of California system. Hawaii remains the lone member from outside of California.

The WAC tried to stabilize membership with the addition of California Baptist earlier this year but other WAC members are hanging by a thread. Chicago State has little geography in common with the WAC and is always budget constrained. New Mexico State has been looking to leave since the day they joined. Seattle University had no choice – the WAC was their only option after making the huge mistake of exiting the West Coast Conference in the 80’s. Grand Canyon, a for-profit university, is building its reputation on basketball and would exit if a better conference option surfaced.

WAC Pack
The WAC pack includes a collection of schools with little in common other than an automatic bid to the NCAA’s

The Summit League is currently standing at 8 members – with a 9th member, North Dakota, joining next season. That being said, current member Fort Wayne is seen as a ‘flight risk’ to follow IUPUI to the Horizon League. It would not be surprising to see them exit the Summit Summit league in the next year or two. If so, the Summit League would drop to 5 baseball teams and lose their NCAA ‘automatic qualifier’ – which would likely push Oral Roberts to exit because baseball is one of their bread and butter sports. Earlier this year, Omaha reached out to the Missouri Valley Conference for membership consideration and Western Illinois seems to always be on shaky financial footing.

And the Summit League’s commissioner, Tom Douple, has openly expressed the need to move to an even number of teams – ten. Augustana has been mentioned as a possible new member but their AD shot down those rumors because of the cost to move from DII to DI. There have been no recent reports from either the Summit League or outside the conference regarding a logical or eager 10th member other than the often cited UMKC return to the Summit League.

Another issue is DU’s current athletic director search. Certainly, conference membership is a big issue for any incoming DU AD. This is a critical topic from a marketing and branding perspective for students and alumni as well as the local Denver area community. Further, it would be little or no surprise to this writer if Peg Bradley-Doppes has been using her time on ‘special assignment’ exploring DU’s current conference affiliation – both for the short and long-term.  Earning a bid from the West Coast Conference, gaining affiliate membership in the Mountain West, or even a long-shot full Big East membership would be the dream scenarios for DU. But, with DU men’s basketball a ‘work in progress’, the timing for DU is challenging as the conference dominoes continue to fall.