Dr. Saturday

Friday’s expansion will have many winners, but also some losers

Graham Watson
Dr. Saturday

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(Tim Heitman/US Presswire)

By the end of the day, another round of expansion will be complete and college football will look almost nothing like it did prior to the 2010 season.

Since that year, 31 teams — a little more than 25 percent of the FBS membership — will have switched conferences and all for various reasons. Some will have switched for more notoriety, some for more money, some for an opportunity for better competition and some for stability.

On Friday, Texas-San Antonio, Louisiana Tech, Charlotte, North Texas, and Florida International will move from the WAC, Atlantic-10 and Sun Belt respectively to Conference USA. San Jose State and Utah State will leave the WAC for the Mountain West.

Earlier this week, the Sun Belt announced it was adding Texas State. Georgia State also will join the conference.

All of these teams with the exception of Charlotte, which doesn't currently have a football team and will be an independent in 2013 and 14, will join their new conferences for the 2013 seasons.

OK. Take a breath. Did you write all that down?

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(Jake Roth/US Presswire)

When the dust settles today, one conference might be on it way toward ceasing to exist. The WAC, which lost Boise State last year, Hawaii, Fresno State and Nevada this coming year and is losing five teams in the current expansion (including UTSA and Texas State, which have never played a WAC game) will be left with Idaho and New Mexico State as its only football-playing members.

The Sun Belt, led by former WAC commissioner Karl Benson, might throw New Mexico State a lifeline with an invitation, but Idaho might be out of options and could be forced to drop down to the FCS for self-preservation. Last summer, Big Sky commissioner Doug Fullerton said he was courting Idaho, but at the time the Vandals were resisting advances from the FCS league. However, things have turned dire for Idaho.

University President Duane Nellis posted the following statement on his Facebook page.

"I appreciate all the comments and concerns about Vandal athletics and the complicated situation we are currently facing with regards to the Western Athletic Conference. I want you all to know that we are in conversations daily about the state of the WAC and the future of athletics.

"Despite what you may believe or be feeling at this time, I am fighting hard for the University of Idaho. I am working with athletic director Rob Spear and we are looking for a positive outcome.

"It is clear from my many conversations with presidents and conference commissioners from across the country including many representing conferences in the west—the key variable for adding new teams is immediate media market. The fact that we are currently atop the WAC Commissioners Cup, have great success in student athlete graduation, are a top quality academic institution, and have invested and continue to invest in athletic facilities at our university seems to mean nothing.

"As you well know TV networks like ESPN are now running major college athletic affiliations not the NCAA. Please stand by us as we work to make this frustrating situation a positive one for the University of Idaho, its vandal alumni, family and friends."

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(Ted S. Warren/AP)

The statement doesn't exactly read like a silver lining for the Vandals. Nellis states what we all knew: this is a business. Student-athlete graduation, the WAC Commissioners Cup, all that stuff doesn't bring in millions of dollars and that's what it takes to be an attractive expansion prospect. Utah State's trip to the Idaho Potato Bowl last year was the program's first bowl berth since 1993, but it has part of the Salt Lake City television market that the Mountain West lost when Utah went to the Pac-12. San Jose State has had two winning seasons since 2000, but has an attractive Northern California television market.

Idaho has had little success on the field and has a mediocre television market that is dominated by Boise State. It's in a losing situation at the FBS level. However, the Vandals could do a lot worse than the Big Sky if the offer is still on the table. The Big Sky arguably has the best collection of FCS teams and the Vandals could always move up to the FBS again later.

While this is a big day for a lot of schools, expansion is far from over. If the Sun Belt adds New Mexico State, it will probably add another team to give it 12 football members and the opportunity to create divisions and ultimately a conference championship. Many believe that final team will be UT-Arlington, which doesn't have a football program, but has the means to put one together. Or, Benson could save the remaining team from his old conference. Benson was the WAC commissioner from 1994-2012 and there were rumblings of his ouster once the conference lost Boise State, Fresno State, Hawaii and Nevada to the Mountain West. So Benson probably doesn't have a lot of warm and fuzzy feelings toward a lot of the WAC — or former WAC — membership.

College football is a living thing. It's constantly changing and adapting while teams try to positions themselves for more money and more notoriety. As we'll see Friday, there are winners and losers in this game, but it's definitely not over.

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