DALLAS, TX - DECEMBER 30: Riley Nelson #13 of the Brigham Young Cougars throws against the Brigham Young Cougars during the Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl at Gerald J. Ford Stadium on December 30, 2011 in Dallas, Texas. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
In today's world of college athletics, nothing is ever set. Someone is always trying to make a move. Whether it be schools like Texas A&M and Missouri wanting out of the Big 12, or Memphis and UCF wanting into the Big East, or conferences like the Big 12 and SEC just waiting for others to implode, we're always on the verge of change.
What ever happened to stability? What ever happened to regional conferences? What ever happened to maintaining rivalries? The BCS and enormous TV deals happened. But, even with that, some have shown that it doesn't take great change to be one of the best. Look at the SEC, the Pac-12, and the Big 10.
While they have certainly made a couple changes, its clear that expansion is not number one on their agenda. They held close the "brotherhood" that they created, and the regionality of their conferences. And because of that, those conferences stand to survive whatever it is that these latest rounds of conference realignment throw their way.
This made me think: what would it be like if Utah and BYU would've never gotten restless in Karl Benson's 16 team WAC? As it stands today, the 16 team super-conference seems to be where things are heading anyway. Benson, as it's been said before, was just ahead of his time. Granted, the WAC would still not have been as strong as your SEC's and Big 12's, but would a conference like the Big East even stand a chance against it?
When BYU and Utah decided to bolt in 1998, the WAC featured four regional quadrants stretching from Hawaii to Houston. But, was that such a terrible thing? Truth is, a few years of getting scheduling worked out probably would've allowed travel to be somewhat reasonable. I mean, today we're talking about San Diego State in the Big East, and Florida State in the Big 12. How much worse could it be?
Here is what the WAC looked like:
|Quadrant 1||Quadrant 2||Quadrant 3||Quadrant 4|
|Fresno State||Air Force||Utah||TCU|
|San Diego State||Colorado State||New Mexico||SMU|
|San Jose State||Wyoming||UTEP||Rice|
Today, those schools would make up not only a very good football conference, but an even better basketball conference. Would the TV deal be as sweet as some of these power conferences get? Probably not, but I can guarantee it'd be plenty more money than either C-USA or the MWC receive.
More than that, what if the WAC would've expanded even further? It would be highly unlikely to be able to keep every single school for ever. Once the power conferences came calling for the Utah's and TCU's, it'd be almost impossible to hold onto them, but, expansion would at the least help soften the blow.
Here's a look at a potentially expanded WAC:
|Quadrant 1||Quadrant 2||Quadrant 3||Quadrant 4|
|Fresno State||Boise St.||Air Force||Houston|
|Hawaii||BYU||Colorado State||Louisian Tech|
|San Diego State||Utah||New Mexico State||SMU|
|San Jose State||Utah State||Tulsa||TCU|
All in all, that's a pretty strong conference. Four of these schools have already broken through with BCS Bowl wins, and many more have spent plenty of time in the NCAA basketball tournament. Together, they form a league that can at least make a case at being considered a power conference. Can we really say the same for the Big East?
Now, of course, this is all about what if, and what could've been. The reality of it is that in 2011-12, only three of those 16 schools from 1998 were still in the WAC. Seven of them were in the MWC, one was independent, one made it into the Pac-12, and the other four were part of C-USA.
And, to be honest, its actually quite a shame. The WAC of the 70's, 80's, and 90's bore some great rivalries, and some heated competition between schools that grew to pretty much hate each other. WAC basketball, especially, was nothing to be taken lightly. Some of the schools spent many consecutive years in the NCAA tournament, and made deep runs as well.
Most people nowadays hardly even remember what, for years, the WAC actually was. Heck, even Arizona and Arizona State were a part of it. In football, BYU became a national powerhouse as a member of the WAC, and solidified the conference as one of the best around. In 1984, the Cougars even brought in a national championship, the only one the WAC ever saw.
Obviously, the 24 team model isn't exactly an ideal situation, but it would have formed a union of 24 great universities that to an extent have been under appreciated in this new world of college athletics. But it is what it is, and we are where we are. In the end, we move on with what we've got, and we just have to roll with the punches. It's just interesting to wonder what would've happened if BYU and Utah would've never broken up the WAC.