The University of Denver’s former and short-lived conference, the Western Athletic Conference (WAC), recently added Cal-Baptist to stabilize the ‘conference of last resort.’ Then, Cal State Bakersfield announced its intention to go to the Big West and UMKC recently announced its plans to flee back to the Summit League. The WAC again returns to eight members with the future addition of Dixie State (Utah) to add stability but not necessarily respectability.
Now, another WAC member is on the ropes. According to an August article in the Chicago Crusader, “Student-athletes and coaches are concerned about the University’s commitment to Division I athletics”. With an interim athletic director, no sports information director, only one trainer for the entire department and no compliance manager, it is now only a matter of time until the Cougars fold their tent.
Three other WAC members are looking to exit if they can find a conference that fits and wants them. Grand Canyon has already sent out feelers to the Summit League, The Big West, Missouri Valley, and the West Coast Conference but the conferences fear GCU’s for profit ‘diploma-mill’ background. New Mexico State is a football independent and would like to jump to the Mountain West or the American Athletic Conference for all sports or the Big West for its current Olympic sports menu. And of course, as we have mentioned before, Seattle University is desperately waiting for an invitation to rejoin the West Coast Conference either before or after the inevitable collapse of the current WAC. WCC power Gonzaga University has been rumored to have blocked Seattle’s WCC aspirations in past years, and is reportedly unwilling to cede its recruiting dominance in the state of Washington.
Not to revel in the WAC’s struggles, the Summit League’s Western Illinois University recently laid off 132 faculty and staff according to the Chicago Tribune. Another article in the Quad-City Times called “Where have all the students gone?” cited the loss of 4,700 students (35%) in the last decade as many students, especially from the Chicago suburbs and rural residents, make other college choices. So, Western Illinois may be the next Summit League member to fall.
Pretty soon, both the WAC and the Summit League are going to run out of regional Division II schools who can afford to ‘move up’ to DI.
Augustana (DII) and St. Thomas (DIII) are two of the few upper Midwest schools capable of making the jump. Otherwise, mid-major conferences, like the Summit League, will continue to scavenge members from fellow mid-majors or lower-tier conferences.
And, DU is likely to be directly or indirectly impacted by any major changes within the Summit League and/or the WAC.
Hang on tight. The next few years should be very interesting.