Many believe that the end game of conference realignment will be a handful of super conferences with everyone else on the outside looking in. We may have seen the beginning of that over the last three days, in order for that to happen some conferences will have to grow (even more than they have already) and by consequence some may cease to exist. In the last 72 hours some big steps have been made in that direction.
The emerging super conference may not be the one people were expecting, it’s not the Big Ten or the ACC or the Big East or the SEC, yet. The first super conference appears to be Conference USA. Let’s start with who aren’t leaving the conference (for basketball), as of now:
East Carolina (Joining the Big East football only in 2014)
The following teams will leave the conference for the Big East in 2013:
Tulane will be joining the Big East in 2014
To replenish the conference the following teams will be joining in 2013:
UNC-Charlotte (Atlantic 10)
Florida International (Sun Belt)
Louisiana Tech (WAC)
North Texas (Sun Belt)
Old Dominion (Colonial)
Texas-San Antonio (WAC)
Florida Atlantic and Middle Tennessee State (Sun Belt) will join the conference in 2014
This puts Conference USA at 15 teams and despite rumors yesterday that Western Kentucky and New Mexico State (of the WAC) would join along with Florida Atlantic but as of now it looks like the latter two will have to wait until the next wave of defections and additions that will undoubtedly come.
At the other end of the spectrum is the WAC. From a basketball perspective conferences must maintain seven members in order to maintain status as an automatic qualifier to the NCAA Tournament. In unique cases conferences may apply for a waiver that allows them to drop to six members for a period of two years and still keep their automatic bid. After the two years the conference must return to seven members.
The WAC is in some mathematical difficulty over the next few years and this lays out the conference’s plight in the best way possible. This seemingly stable 10-team conference gets thrown in disarray this summer as seven of those 10 will be leaving for greener pastures. Only New Mexico State, Idaho and Seattle will remain in 2013 they will be joined by newcomers Cal-State Bakersfield, Utah Valley and Grand Canyon University With the ruling that any school transitioning to division 1 will not count towards membership until reclassification is finished leaves the WAC in a bind, even with the waiver they only have five members.
For 2013 they have added Texas-Pan American and can add Chicago State from the Great West to get to seven members. In 2014 Idaho leaves for the Big Sky Conference dropping membership to six (provided Chicago State is added), which is still ok, the problem comes during the 2015-16 season.
The waiver will have expired and Grand Canyon will not be eligible for two more seasons and they will need to get back up to seven members. The problem for the conference is that it is unlikely that the last member of the Great West, New Jersey Institute of Technology is unlikely to look towards the WAC as they have concentrated their efforts elsewhere. Complicating matters further is the rumor that New Mexico State is on the radar of both the Sun Belt and Conference USA.
Even if all members stay and assuming the addition of two other schools, the WAC will fall one member of automatic bid status. While one conference is growing and growing another is left grasping at straws as it sees the tide approaching to wash it away.