Courtesy Western Athletic Conference.

Column: Speculation is Fun But Gets a Little Wild

Speculation on conference realignment is always a fun debate topic.

“Which schools will join?”

“This conference is in trouble.”

“My team is going to this conference.”

And the speculation goes on and on. It makes for interesting topics at the dinner table, on podcast episodes, and media platforms.

Fans want their teams to compete against the best. For some, there is always the thought that the grass is greener somewhere else. It’s always a mystery, in the grand scheme of things, where a school will end up.

Did anyone think that USC, UCLA, Washington and Oregon would be members of the Big Ten? Or that a conference with 108 years of tradition and dubbed the Conference of Champions would just evaporate into thin air? If you did, you should probably head to Vegas because you could make some big money betting on the future.

Perhaps 2023 is different than 2016. Do you remember that year? The WAC went to a 16-team league with two divisions. Then-Utah president Bernie Machen had this reaction: “Who in the f*^k came up with this?”

And Machen was a Big Ten guy serving as Provost at Michigan.

This leads to where we are at now.

USC, UCLA, Washington and Oregon are in the Big Ten. Arizona, Arizona State, Utah and Colorado are in the Big 12. The Pac-12 or Pac-4 or whatever you want to call it is most likely done. The $34 million price tag placed on Mountain West Conference teams to leave in less than a years’ notice will play a huge role in that.

Football rules all. That is what this is ALL about. Football brings in the most money. The television deals for football are a driving force behind these major shifts in collegiate athletics.

And, in my opinion, we are getting to a dangerous spot where the little guys will get left out. Perhaps it is like Chip Kelly said the other day.

Make a division for the 64 Power Five schools. And make a division for the 64 Group of Five schools. Let football have its own divisions. They only play 12 games and only half of those on the road in some/most instances.

The other sports, as Chip Kelly says above, are the most affected in all of this.  Out of 30-plus games, half of those are on the road. Thursday-Sunday games. This means being gone for half the season. Can you imagine?

Right now, as it stands, the longest road trip for a WAC school to make is to either the Pacific Northwest to play Seattle U. Or, either South Texas to face UTRGV or East Texas to take on SFA.

It’s spans quite the landscape in the West/Southwest.

That’s okay. For now.

Let’s get back to this speculation that seems to happen each and every day.

UVU athletic director Jared Sumsion said on ESPN960 the other day that UVU has talked with two conferences. Who those conferences are? That is a mystery. One would think the WCC since, outside of being a state school, UVU fits the mold and could fill the gap left by BYU departing to the Big 12.

The second? Well, that’s the weird part. No offense to teams in the Big West, but the basketball in the WAC is much better. So, that wouldn’t make sense. The Summit League? That wouldn’t make sense either. Basketball is the head honcho sport at Utah Valley. People might speculate UVU to the Mountain West or Conference USA or even the Big Sky. The problem, much like GCU, is that Utah Valley does not have football. And again, go back to the top. Football drives all.

So, why would a conference that sponsors football take a non-football school?

When the tweet came out about GCU and the MWC talking, I think a lot of people raised an eyebrow. Sure, GCU is a big brand and has had success in all sports. Problem is…they DON’T have football. So, why would they even be in the conversation when the Mountain West is a football conference with basketball close behind? If a league is going to stay in the mix for the television money and not get left behind, surely they won’t add a non-football school.

Do you see the speculation in these words?

That’s all it is: speculation.

Could the MWC take a GCU or Utah Valley? Maybe. But, if you are being honest with yourself, do you really think they would take a non-football school before they took a football school?

Along the lines of speculation that might seem a little more viable is SFA and Tarleton to Conference USA. Now, do I think that happens? I’m leaning more toward yes. But, when? That is where the speculation on what the Mountain West Conference, Cal, Stanford, Oregon State and Washington State comes in.

If they join the Mountain West, which is probably their best choice, then I think conference realignment goes on pause for a bit. If they don’t, and the MWC schools join the Pac-12, then the trickle down effect will take place. The MWC may replace those schools with schools from the AAC or Conference USA. Looking at you, UTEP and New Mexico State. This would lead to Conference USA needing to replenish the farm, which could lead to SFA and Tarleton leaving the WAC for the FBS ranks.

Speculation, speculation, speculation.

I could throw out all kinds of speculation on who goes where and what conference does what.

Again, it is a great debate/discussion topic.

Here is the thing for teams in the WAC, especially those whose basketball teams are the leaders in the clubhouse. Why leave the WAC? The basketball is ultra-competitive and only getting better. If you weren’t paying attention, the WAC 11th-ranked conference in America in 2022-23…out of 32 conferences. The WAC was the 5th-ranked mid-major conference in America behind the MWC, AAC, WCC and Conference USA.

Two of those conferences had Final Four teams. One conference had the NCAA runner-up. That is some pretty good company to be around.

We get it. Money talks. Especially in regard to football. And yes, I am a loyalist to a fault and believe making the jump isn’t always in the best interest of an athletic department. Forgive me for that.

Like someone once asked me recently: would you rather win national titles and be successful or be mediocre just for the money?


About the author

Kyle McDonald

Love everything about WAC Hoops so decided I wanted to write more about it and cover this amazing conference that just keeps getting better. Follow us on Twitter @wachoopsdigest for information, game analysis and much more.

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