HOUSTON — The WAC if officially back, reigniting as a football conference after disbanding nearly a decade ago.
One major difference: The new Western Athletic Conference will be competing in the Football Championship Subdivision instead of the higher Football Bowl Subdivision where it was a well-known league from 1962-2012.
But there are indications that perhaps the WAC already has its sights set on bigger things.
Commissioner Jeff Hurd today announced Thursday, Jan. 14, that five new schools would join the WAC and that the conference would reinstate football at the beginning of the 2022 season. However, he quickly amended that statement and indicated the WAC would push for 2021 membership for four of the new schools because their old league, the Southland Conference, expelled them.
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Four of the schools — Abilene Christian University, Lamar University, Sam Houston State University and Stephen F. Austin State University — are in Texas and currently are members of the Southland Conference. The fifth, Southern Utah University, is a member of the Big Sky Conference.
The move had been reported for weeks, but no official word came until Thursday.
North Dakota State is a member of FCS, having won eight national titles since 2011.
While Hurd and two presidents who spoke at the announcement expressed the most enthusiasm about the expanded league's basketball potential, Abilene Christian president Phil Schubert said the league would "push forward aggressively the sport of football over the next several years."
In a press release the league said "there is no established timetable or plan for such a move as a conference, but there is an agreement among the football-playing institutions to commit to an analysis of all the implications of such a move."
I later asked Schubert whether that meant the WAC was intending to move to FBS:
"I know there is conversation about continuing to assess the football landscape at both the FCS and FBS levels. It would be premature to make any decisions around what the specific direction of the conference will be. I can say from my conversations that we'll be a conference that's always looking and evaluating the right position for our football-playing schools."
Well-sourced college football writer Pete Thamel of Yahoo Sports had earlier reported the WAC intended to move to FBS within the decade.
The new WAC members will create a 13-team conference that will be divided into two divisions for sports other than football, men’s basketball and women’s basketball.
One division will consist of the Texas-based institutions including current WAC members Tarleton State University and The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley. The other division will include Southern Utah along with Dixie State University, New Mexico State University, Grand Canyon University, California Baptist University, Seattle University and Utah Valley University.
- Report: WAC set to announce FCS conference
- McFeely blog: Southland Conference shakeup in the works
- McFeely blog: Nothing 'imminent,' but Stephen F. Austin moves toward leaving Southland
Chicago State, a non-football member which joined the WAC in 2013 with Missouri-Kansas City, will leave the league in 2022.
The new members, along with Dixie State and Tarleton, will give the WAC seven full-time members that play in, or are transitioning to, the FCS. It is anticipated that at least one more football-playing member will be added, but a timetable has not yet been established, according to a league release.
That school could be Texas-Rio Grande Valley, which submitted a letter of intent to start an FCS program possibly by 2023 or 2024. At its announcement, the WAC said that schools outside the league might be a focus instead of programs already in the WAC.
It's not clear whether the WAC will get an automatic bid to the FCS playoffs in fall 2021. The conference originally intended to have the new schools join it July 1, 2022, but the Southland Conference expedited the exit of Sam Houston State, Abilene Christian, Lamar and Stephen F. Austin prior to that. Hurd said the WAC had received an auto-bid waiver for 2022, but will have to work to integrate the new teams into the league in 2021 and didn't know whether it would receive a waiver for 2021.
Southern Utah will remain in the Big Sky until June 30, 2022, and compete as a member through the 2021-22 academic year, the Big Sky said.
The Southland also appears to have officially lost Central Arkansas. A letter posted online by Northwestern State president Chris Maggio seemed to confirm the Bears will leave the Southland to join the Atlantic Sun Conference. Sam Herder of HERO Sports tweeted that there are rumblings Central Arkansas is looking to move up to FBS.