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Once-proud (and large) WAC on its death bed, and that's a shame

by | CBSSports.com College Football Insider
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LaVell Edwards once led BYU to a national title in 1984 as WAC members. (US Presswire)  
LaVell Edwards once led BYU to a national title in 1984 as WAC members. (US Presswire)  

In 1996, the Western Athletic Conference was big. Really, really big. A record 16 teams big, making it the largest Division I-A football conference in the land.

"In retrospect we were probably ahead of our time when we expanded from 10 to 16 [in 1996]," WAC interim commissioner Jeff Hurd said Monday night. "I find it ironic that most of the conference realignment issues that are happening today are because the conferences are getting bigger."

The WAC's 1996 membership spanned the globe from Hawaii to Oklahoma. They were literally busting at the seams. Now less than 20 years later, they've gone bust.

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The WAC is on its death bed as an FBS conference. If you're a friend of the WAC, you still have 13 months to pay your last respects. Before long it will be time to read the WAC its last rites. Go ahead and start carving the tombstone.

Western Athletic Conference
July 27, 1962-June 30, 2013
Here lies a conference who accomplished great things in its 50 years on Earth.
The WAC was taken too much soon.
It was a beloved conference.

The WAC's official obit as a FBS football league can't be written until next year, but the end is near.

The league's football future has been in critical condition for a number of months.

Last season, Fresno State, Hawaii and Nevada all bolted for the Mountain West. The year before that it was Boise State, the league's bell cow, that left.

This fall the league is down to seven football members -- Idaho, New Mexico State, Louisiana Tech, Utah State, San Jose State, Texas San Antonio and Texas State. After this year, Louisiana Tech and UTSA are headed to Conference USA, Utah State and San Jose State are bound for the Mountain West and Texas State is off to the Sun Belt.

Texas San Antonio and Texas State, who both just made the move up to the FBS ranks, already agreed to leave the WAC before they even started playing in the league.

After this fall, the WAC will be left with only two football members: Idaho and New Mexico State. I'm not sure which one is responsible for turning out the lights.

In 1996, the WAC had four quadrants of four teams each. Soon they'll be down to two members.

Of the 16 WAC teams from their 1996 boom, eight will be in the Mountain West in 2013, three will be in Conference USA, two will be in the Big East and one each will be in the Pac-12, Big 12 and an independent. None will still be in the WAC.

Maybe this is all payback -- albeit 50 years later -- for how the WAC started. Back in 1962 the league was founded with six members: Arizona, Arizona State, Brigham Young, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming. Because of the creation of the WAC both the Border Conference and the Skyline Eight Conference were forced to fold.

The WAC is the sixth oldest among the 11 Division I FBS conferences. It's a proud conference and has had plenty of accomplishments, most notably being the last non AQ BCS conference to win a national football title (BYU in 1984).

But the Cougars, like every one before and after them, eventually left for a conference that would earn them more money.

In 2013, there will be 125 football programs competing at the FBS division. More than one-fifth of those schools -- 26 in all -- have been a member of the WAC at one time or another.

The WAC has been mostly a temporary stop over than a long-term home for schools. And that's unfortunate.

Don’t blame former commissioner Karl Benson or Hurd, who recently took over for Benson and has been in charge of putting out multiple five-alarm fires with a leaky squirt gun. The WAC certainly didn't start the fire. It was Jim Delany's cow in a Chicago barn that kicked over the lantern that started the country's conference realignment inferno.

After that it was a hundred reactionary moves from other conference commissioners, shoring up their ranks, while scorching college football's landscape. The other 10 conferences may have had some hardships, but they will all survive. It's the WAC that got burned to a crisp.

Hurd joked since taking over for Benson seven weeks ago he hasn't been able to catch his breath. I think he was joking, but maybe not. Besides putting out fires, he's had to deal with unrealistic expectations of the fans, who expect him to replace (fill in the blank) school with another team from a bigger conference.

One such fan sent Hurd an email the other day.

"Mr. Hurd," the email read, "What the hell are you doing? Do you even have a plan?"

Hurd told me Monday night he's still optimistic about the future of the league, but would not comment about the league's football future. Maybe he would at a later date, he said.

"I've been in the WAC for more than two decades and experienced every type of addition and subtraction and this one is no different," Hurd said. "We'll recover. We've completed our 50th year and we'll continue as a viable Division I conference."

It just doesn't look like it will be as a Division I football conference.

Here's to the Western Athletic Conference. May it West in Peace.

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