The Western Athletic Conference is going to look different in 2022. The league’s Board of Directors announced today that five universities were approved to join the conference. The additions of Abilene Christian University, Lamar University, Sam Houston State University, Stephen F. Austin State University, and Southern Utah will make the WAC a 13-team league.
WAC Expansion Means 13 Teams in 2022
Though the decision is to improve the basketball programs, conference realignments usually have football undertones. The 2022 season will reintroduce WAC football to the Football Championship Subdivision. The move now gives the conference 20 competitive sports championships between the men’s and women’s programs.
WAC Commissioner Jeff Hurd said this of the change, “The opportunity to bring five quality institutions into the conference, to significantly strengthen the WAC’s national basketball brand and other championship profiles, and to bring football back under the WAC umbrella is one that made sense.”
The majority of the schools, with the exception of Southern Utah, are in Texas and leaving the Southland Conference.
Aggies Hoops Get More Competition
New Mexico State has dominated the WAC, winning the conference eight out of the last ten years. Grand Canyon has shown signs of hope this season, but the league generally lacks competitiveness after the top tier. The addition of the Southland transfers will bolster the basketball reputation of the league significantly.
Sam Houston, Abilene Christian, and Stephen F. Austin are currently at the top of the Southland standings. These schools were predicted to finish as the top three in the conference in the preseason polls, and Lamar was picked to finish fifth.
In addition, Southern Utah is leading the Big Sky Conference and posts a 9-1 overall record at the moment. The Thunderbirds are playing quality basketball even though they were slated to finish seventh before the season started.
The Return of WAC Football
The WAC was once a strong part of college football. From 2011-2012, Boise State, Fresno State, Nevada, and Hawai’i announced they would be leaving for the Mountain West. In 2013, San Jose State and Utah State followed suit. NMSU became a football independent in 2013.
Of course, the MWC, set to become a powerhouse league, saw Utah, Brigham Young, and Texas Christian leave from 2011-2012. Perhaps Boise State frightened them.
All the aforementioned schools of the old WAC have talented basketball programs as well. The league is trying to reinvent itself and make the conference relevant once again, but it will take time on the gridiron. Maybe not so much on the court, however.
What Happens to the Southland Conference?
Losing four programs can be devastating to a conference. It doesn’t just hurt the recruiting of the remaining schools, but also steals away history and passionate rivalries. College athletics is a business, however. The Southland drops to six schools, which is the minimum required for postseason bids. Adding teams from FCS conferences or the D-II level is a possibility to help restructure the league.
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