WAC Re-Alignment Looms- Who is Next to Bail?

What happens if the Eastern WAC schools get tired of the Western WAC schools continually kissing up to the Mountain West Conference and decide to leave the WAC all together? What does SJS do then?

Ask yourself this…

What happens if the Eastern WAC schools (E-WAC) get tired of the Western WAC schools (W-WAC) continually kissing up to the Mountain West Conference (MWC) and decide to leave the conference? And more specifically, what happens to your school if you are subsequently left out of a two-school MWC expansion?

Get ready -- The E-WAC is tired of the annual "pick me dance" out west; it is an insult to them. Why should they align with people who clearly and obviously and publicly don't want to align with them? They are about to have options and they are almost certain to exercise those options. Supposedly, TCU has already told CUSA that they will stay in that conference, rather than bolting to the WAC, if CUSA invites SMU, Tulsa and Rice.

When that (or something similar) happens, and when 1 or 2 W-WAC schools are added to the MWC, then there are only four schools remaining in the WAC (perhaps more if certain E-WAC schools don't land). That is not enough in size or strength to recreate the conference yet again; at least not a WAC with any credibility and not one that will survive the new D1-A requirements.

Can you say "D1-AA" or Independent – and all it means for reduced athletic budgets, reduced scheduling, reduced fund raising (athletics and otherwise), and reduced attractiveness for recruits to all your programs – perhaps even reduced / eliminated programs?

The W-WAC presidents are playing Russian Roulette with the Athletic futures of their schools. Instead of courting an E-WAC that may save them all, they are courting the MWC and, in the process, almost forcing the E-WAC to turn to other options. There are six schools in the W-WAC (counting UTEP) and the MWC isn't taking them all. That's six chambers in the gun and most likely only one or two of them don't have bullets in them.

There is one defensive strategy that may work to save the conference. Ironically, it is also our best offensive strategy. It is a strategy that could elevate us above both CUSA and the MWC in the "pecking order" of conferences. And it is a strategy that the W-WAC presidents seem disinclined to follow.

Please click the link below and read, print and hopefully distribute "The Yoda Plan". (Yoda is my internet moniker…) If you see merit in it, please see that it reaches the right desks. Please see that the right questions are asked of the AD and the President.

Mid course corrections in policy don't come from kooks emailing a school President; such change comes from within the organization. For a number of years, our W-WAC Presidents have heard little more than, "We've got to get into the MWC or all is lost". If there is to be a new paradigm, it must come from you and work it's way up to the top.

To view the plan, please go to http://westsports.com/yodaplan.pdf.

Thank you for your time and attention.


Bill "Yoda" Tanner yoda@surpluslines.com

To save everyone some time, here is the wording SpartanThunder.com pulled from the PDF itself this evening.

The Western Athletic Conference is about to come crashing down and if it does, the blame will lie squarely at the feet of the Presidents of the western WAC (W-WAC) schools. Ironically, the biggest victims of this crash will be the W-WAC schools themselves; these wounds, should they happen, will be self-inflicted.

There are two things that the eastern WAC (E-WAC) schools need. They need to know with certainty that the W-WAC is committed to staying in the conference. They are tired of the annual "pick me dance" out west; it is an insult to them. Why should they align with people who clearly and obviously and publicly don't want to align with them?

To a school, they are not inclined to stay in the WAC unless the W-WAC schools will commit to being part of a conference instead of merely using the conference as a holding pen for MWC wannabes.

The E-WAC schools also need to take advantage of the Big East's upcoming raid on Conference USA. CUSA is about to lose three schools to the Big East as replacements for losses to the ACC. The E-WAC would like to take TCU and one other school (Southern Mississippi, Tulane or Houston) from CUSA but TCU has reportedly already told CUSA that they will stay if CUSA invites as replacements for the three lost schools, SMU, Tulsa and Rice.

And why wouldn't they accept such an invitation when the alternative is to associate with a western division that is begging to escape and leave them behind. They have to act; they do not have the luxury of sitting around waiting for the W-WAC to see what the MWC is going to do.

Should Rice, SMU and Tulsa bolt, the WAC would only have seven schools – Boise State, Fresno State, Hawai'i, Louisiana Tech, Nevada, San Jose State and Texas, El Paso. Of those, at least one is struggling to retain it's D1-A eligibility and could be forced to drop out in the next few years. And the MWC has announced plans to consider expansion with most reports suggesting that they will likely add one or two of those five schools in the next year.

In other words, if this plays out as expected, there may very well be perhaps four conference "orphans" in the W-WAC. There would not be a sufficient number of available schools in the west to sustain a D1-A WAC. That said, it is possible that we could steal some schools from the Sun Belt or even join the Sun Belt – if they would have us.

But why would they be any more interested than the E-WAC, in hooking up with schools who clearly don't want to align with them and who are only in a holding pattern until a MWC spot opens up? Chances are, they won't unless their own plights as respects the new D1-A criteria were such that they didn't have any better options. Or unless we were suddenly more willing than we had been in the past to sign an extended, multiyear, binding agreement to stay in our conference.

Clearly, it is critically important for the W-WAC to keep the WAC together – to keep the E-WAC from bolting. In my view, the only way to accomplish that is to sign a binding agreement to stay in the conference for five years (exception: to accept a bid to a BCS conference). Every school in the E-WAC is apparently willing to sign such an agreement.

Welcome to Russian Roulette, W-WAC style.

The hang up is in the west; it is the W-WAC Presidents that won't sign this binding agreement. There are six schools in the W-WAC hoping to be among the one or two chosen by the MWC and a binding agreement would prevent them from accepting such an invitation. That's six chambers in the gun and only one or two of them don't have bullets in them.

By refusing to sign a 5-year agreement binding them to the WAC, the W-WAC Presidents are leaving the E-WAC schools with no choice but to look for other options. Our Presidents are putting all of their eggs in the MWC basket. It's all or nothing – they either get an MWC invitation or they almost certainly orphan their programs and possibly even doom them to D1-AA ignominy.

A 5-year, conference-wide binding agreement to stay in the WAC (unless invited to join a BCS conference) is the single most critical defensive strategic move that the member institutions can make. As luck would have it, however, it is also the single most effective offensive strategic move that the conference could make.

The "Yoda Plan" calls for expanding the WAC to 14 schools in two geographically logical divisions as follows:


Boise State, Fresno State, Hawai'i, Nevada, Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV), San Diego State, San Jose State

Eastern WAC

Louisiana Tech, Rice, Southern Methodist (SMU), Southern Mississippi (USM), Texas Christian (TCU) Texas, El Paso (UTEP), Tulsa

So how do we pull this off? First, what you don't do – you don't sit around waiting your turn in the pecking order of conferences before making your move. And you don't do it piecemeal – ideally, it would be done in a single weekend – a surgical strike so that others don't have time to react.

The commitment has to be made to follow through with all the pieces. Without the binding agreement, the E-WAC is not likely to stick around and it's expansion candidates are likely to be decidedly disinterested in joining us. Without a commitment to go after SDSU & UNLV, the W-WAC schools don't have quite enough motivation to sign a binding agreement (even if such an agreement is clearly and obviously in their best interests).

You can't go half-way and try and get a binding agreement without a further agreement to at least attempt to go after SDSU and UNLV – even though that means a 14 school conference.

The problem with the WAC 16 wasn't the number of schools in the conference, it was the fact that you cannot create two sensible divisions when your schools are located in three separate and distinct geographic regions. Rivalries have to be broken.

The "Yoda Plan" doesn't break rivalries; it enhances them. Further, a 14 school WAC gives you the added security of knowing that, if you lose one or two schools due to their inability to meet new D1-A requirements, you still have twelve schools – enough for your championship football game – instead of having to scramble around trying to find replacements.

So here it is, step by step…

First, the WAC Presidents have to decide to act. They have to decide that they will sign the agreement and they have to decide that they want to add those four schools – TCU and USM (my preference, or Tulane or Houston) from CUSA and SDSU and UNLV from the MWC.

Second, the E-WAC invites TCU and USM (or whomever) to a meeting on a Friday afternoon, explains our strategy and extends an invitation to join the WAC. With our 5- year binding agreement, we are offering a level of stability that CUSA cannot offer. The unstable WAC is suddenly a safe harbor for schools with BCS aspirations.

We make it clear that, if they agree to join us, we will immediately invite SDSU & UNLV as well. Our objective is to move up the pecking order of conferences, over both CUSA and the MWC.

And with expansion to 14, we would be successful in that regard; a WAC 14 would be well positioned for a BCS autobid – it would be between us and the Big East. We ask for an answer in 24 hours so that we can approach SDSU and UNLV before the MWC gets wind of what is happening. If they accept, or if they accept provisionally (contingent upon SDSU and UNLV also accepting), then the WAC formally adopts the 5- year, conference-wide binding agreement.

As soon as they accept, the W-WAC meets with SDSU and UNLV.

• We advise them that the five-year agreement is a fait accompli. From that moment on, the MWC has no desirable expansion possibilities in the west and they are immediately at risk of seeing the MWC fall apart because of it. If Wyoming drops down to D1-AA or if either Utah or BYU bolt for a BCS conference invitation, the MWC is in trouble. They would find themselves in the same position that W-WAC orphans would have been in – having to add Sun Belt Conference schools to replace those they lost.

• We tell them that TCU and USM have agreed to join the conference. We show them power ratings and make clear that we are now the strongest of the non-BCS conferences, located in the better markets and the expected recipients of the greater television exposure and bigger television contract.

• We invite them in to a Division that is virtually identical to the Division that they would play in with a 12 school MWC – a division that the MWC can no longer offer them by virtue of our 5-year binding agreement.

• We offer UNLV the only chance that they will have to make their political leaders happy by playing in the same conference with Nevada. The 5-year binding agreement makes it impossible for the MWC to satisfy those leaders; only the WAC can bring them together. UNLV President Carole Harter is very public about wanting to be in the same conference as Nevada; it's time to put up or admit it was all for show. And President Lilley gets to claim credit for making it happen instead of potentially having to watch President Harter do it.

• Perhaps (or perhaps not) we make a couple of minor concessions – maybe Hawai'i pays travel costs for those two schools only for three years or we guarantee that their conference income will be equal to or better than what their MWC income would have been for a few years.

More than anything else, we offer them stability at a time in which their conference is suddenly looking anything but stable. And we make it clear that if they do not accept within 48 hours, they will never again have such an offer placed before them. If the MWC falls apart later, our offer will be made to someone else.

I believe that SDSU and UNLV would come back. The WAC's 5-year binding agreement not only creates great stability in the WAC, it also makes the MWC too unstable an entity for them to risk staying.

They are faced with the same dilemma that they faced when the gang of five offered them admission to the MWC – if they don't jump, they can't be certain that some other MWC member won't take their places and leave them in terrible straights.

And even if that were not the case, the W-WAC offers them the superior opportunity for warm weather sports, games not played at altitude, the regional rivalries that the gang of five considered critical for themselves but an unaffordable luxury for the invitees, etc. If we just stop trying to pull ourselves apart and commit to each other, then I believe the WAC can surpass both CUSA and the MWC.

We hold the winning hand in this game of high stakes poker – the only question is, are our President's going to play it or are they going to fold?

There is no reason to wait for others to act first. If we do, we may find TCU, SMU, et. al, in CUSA and the W-WAC looking for cover in the Sun Belt. And praying that we can find it there.

Bill "Yoda" Tanner


Revised: 5:10 PM, June 14, 2003

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