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.

9 thoughts on “Cal State-Bakersfield WAC exit could spell future change for DU”

  1. Every one of these conferences suck, it is almost pointless to debate over whether the WAC is better than the Summit League, etc. Just a horrible environment in which to build a basketball program.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. The reason following the WAC is important is because Seattle is the other program often cited as a future candidate for West Coast Conference membership. If there is a WAC meltdown, they will likely go to the WCC. If that happened, Denver could be used to even conference membership out – and add a major metro area to the conference as well.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Seattle’s WCC desires have always been thwarted by Gonzaga, who wields the big power stick in the WCC. Gonzaga sees Seattle as an in-state private Catholic recruiting competitor, and does not want the Red Hawks in the conference. Only if Gonzaga leaves the WCC would Seattle be welcomed there.

    DU is a nice fit for the the Big East academically, but such a huge longshot from a basketball and geographic standpoint. Only if DU was able to get its basketball program to eventually dominate the Summit every year, win some NCAA tourney games, draw 5,000 per game and keep an RPI under 75, the Big East might then consider it, as DU is an attractive new city with lots of eyeballs, an easy non-stop flight, and might make a better travel partner with Creighton in Omaha. DU could also help the Big East in Soccer, Volleyball, Swimming, Tennis and Golf right away, as it already does in mens and women’s lacrosse. And of course, having Big East schools here would draw crowds and extend the recruiting areas of Big East schools. But those are very tall orders for the Pios, as DU needs a higher level of hoops recruit to even dominate the Summit, what with the league tourney in SDSU and USD’s backyard every year.

    DU would certainly also add value to the WCC and would make the academic crowd at DU feel better keeping company with all those fellow small private schools with similar academics, and would also help DU’s west coast recruiting. The big challenge would be creating spectator interest here in Denver. Gonzaga and BYU are the teams that could draw casual fans here – but the Pepperdines, USDs, Santa Clara’s, Pacific’s and Loyola-Marymounts won’t draw any more people here that the Summit teams do, especially now that DU’s hockey rival North Dakota is coming to the Summit, and Omaha is already there, too.

    The Mountain West has been a non-starter for us without football. If they are ever interested in us as an affiliate, DU would jump in a heartbeat, but alas, no interest to date.


    1. The Big Sky would be a slight upgrade by adding a local rival (UNC) and concentrating most of our rivals in the Mountain time zone/west. Still, we would be the only private institution in the Big Sky and half the size of members as well. Generally, university Presidents have the last say on conference affiliation and would prefer ‘like schools’- the current issue with the Summit League. If for some reason the Summit League started to unravel, it might be a safe landing spot – but not ideal.


    2. I see the Big Sky as a another Summit League – a basically lateral move, and I’d argue that UND, with 60 years of playing hockey here in Denver is a far bigger rival to DU than UNC is, despite the geographic difference.

      While I would love to see DU get into a better conference fit with fellow privates someday (Big East, WCC, etc.) I am getting more comfortable with DU in the Summit today. It’s a very good league from a competition standpoint, and it’s going to get even better with UND and Omaha to grow into all-sports rivalries. No need to trade that for more Big Sky directional schools that we have little in common with…

      Liked by 1 person

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