As the Western Athletic Conference (WAC) adds football, jettisons member Chicago State, adds five new members and becomes more geographically focused, Seattle University becomes even more isolated. A return to the West Coast Conference, Seattle’s former home, becomes a greater priority as the Redhawks become more geographically isolated and less aligned with fellow WAC member institutions.
Not surprisingly, struggling Chicago State will exit the WAC effective June 2022. With a tiny athletic budget and broad geography, it was just a matter of time before the Cougars exited the conference.
Last year, the conference added California Baptist and Dixie State (UT). The focus on the southwest US geography continued this January when the WAC announcing five new members located in Texas and Utah (Abilene Christian University, Lamar University, Sam Houston State University, Stephen F. Austin State University, and Southern Utah University).
The news you've all been waiting for! Welcome to the WAC – Abilene Christian University (@ACUsports), Lamar University (@LamarAthletics), Sam Houston State University (@BearkatSports), Southern Utah University (@SUUThunderbirds) and Stephen F. Austin University (@SFA_Athletics). pic.twitter.com/HgEeq81059
— The Western Athletic Conference (@WACsports) January 14, 2021
The WAC will now have the most Texas member schools (6) of any other Division I conference in the country. The league will consist of the ‘Southwest Division’ and a ‘West Division.’ The Southwest will be made up of the six schools in Texas: Abilene Christian, Lamar, Sam Houston State, Stephen F. Austin, Tarleton State, and UTRGV. The West will include California Baptist, Dixie State, Grand Canyon, New Mexico State, Seattle U, Southern Utah, and Utah Valley.
With the newest additions, the league will bring back football at the FCS level in the fall of 2022. WAC football will consist of Abilene Christian, Dixie State, Lamar, Sam Houston State, Southern Utah, Stephen F. Austin, and Tarleton State. Current WAC member, UTRGV, has submitted the appropriate paperwork to launch a Division I program by 2023 or 2024. As it pertains to football at New Mexico State — an FBS Independent since 2018 after getting booted from the Sun Belt Conference — the Aggies will not be dropping down to FCS.
Considering the cost to operate a football program in today’s athletic environment, it is a surprise that the WAC would take on the additional costs of introducing football at this time. That being said, by becoming more geographically focused, the WAC has likely moved off life support.
So how could this impact DU? It was highly unlikely that DU would ever return to the WAC and now it is more unlikely than ever with the addition of football. The Summit League, West Coast Conference, and BIG EAST are the only viable non-football focused conferences that would ever make geographic (or non-geographic, in the BIG EAST’s case) sense for DU. The best fit outside of current Summit League membership for DU remains the West Coast Conference. The travel distance from Denver to the West Coast is actually about the same distance as travel to Grand Forks or Minneapolis and the cost to travel to California due to flight frequency and competition would actually be cheaper or the same as today’s cost to travel to most Summit League institutions.
Over the short term, look for Seattle University to campaign publicly or privately to gain membership to the WCC. Current WCC members include mostly private Jesuit universities: Gonzaga University, Loyola Marymount, University of the Pacific, Pepperdine, Universit of Portland, St Marys, University of San Diego, University of San Francisco, and BYU.