Navigating the ever-changing college sports landscape & ACU’s future in the WAC

BIG COUNTRY, Texas (KTAB/KRBC) — In this week’s Big Country Politics, Abilene Christian University President Dr. Phil Schubert and Sports Director David Robinett discussed ACU’s journey in Division 1, shedding light on the changes and challenges they have encountered. Their perspective on the university’s involvement in the Western Athletic Conference and its future plans provides insights into the changing landscape of college athletics.

ACU joins four other universities in historic move to WAC

ACU has been a part of Division 1 for seven years, and Schubert shared that he could not have imagined the opportunities that were opened.

“There have been some amazing parts of this journey that I never could have anticipated. So obviously, the most notable was beating Texas in March Madness. I don’t know how you can ever imagine what that’s like. I still to this day, say that’s the greatest sporting event I’ve ever been to in my life by a factor of 1000,” Schubert said.

He added that many things have changed over the years and will only change further.

“More recently, trying to anticipate the volatility that just cascaded through this landscape of division one athletes and athletics in general, with the transfer portal, NIL, and all the different conference realignment that has taken place. It’s just the one thing that I’ve learned in college athletics, at least today, is there’s no chance it’s gonna look the same tomorrow as it does today,” Schubert explained. “Some of the challenges had been more constant and present, and more volatility than I would have anticipated, not that I ever anticipated that this would be a stable standard landscape where we could accurately predict what was going to happen next. But the level of back-and-forth changes and movement has been well beyond what I would have ever expected.”

ACU has been part of the Western Athletic Conference (WAC) for three years, but by the end of next school year, the conference will have fewer members than before. Schubert is still comfortable keeping ACU in the WAC despite the fact that other schools are leaving.

“I think we’re pretty comfortable in the WAC. There was a time when we came into the WAC, and then within the first year, we were gonna have eight Texas schools in the WAC,” Schubert shared. “I think, in a matter of days, that’s probably going to be down to three, because I think you’ll see another one of the Texas schools exit within the next four to five days. There will be a public announcement that radically changes the landscape because the travel costs student-athlete time out of class.”

UConn, Kentucky among those with big changes through transfers in college basketball’s portal window

He added that a conference reshuffle has a lot of different impacts, including postseason play.

“So one of the key things that you have to look at is, do you maintain your automatic qualifiers for postseason play? That’s always a big factor. You got to be in a conference with enough teams and enough sports that when your team wins, whichever team wins, they get an automatic bid into the NCAA playoffs,” Schubert said. “A huge issue that also attaches itself to the financial distributions that come through the March Madness contract with the NCAA… As long as you maintain six teams competing across each sport, then you maintain your AQ, your automatic qualifier, and you have access to those financial distributions. And if you fall below the six [teams], you’re put on a two-year probationary cycle. So that clock hasn’t started because, as you know, we’re still above six.”

In the end, Schubert expressed his desire to remain and help rebuild the Western Athletic Conference.

“If I were to look out across the landscape, any opportunity that ACU might want to pursue: If it’s available today, it’s going to be available in a year or two or three years. So, our priority is going to be to stay and build the WAC, and I think there are a lot of opportunities with additional conference shakeouts that might take place over the next several weeks and months,” Schubert explained. “For us to be in this position, we have significant financial resources in the Western Athletic Conference, more so than most any conference at our FCS level, and for us to be looking for what opportunities might emerge that we could take advantage of in this time of shuffling that could really reinforce what we’re doing… that’s gonna be our first priority.”

ACU schedule in 2021 features alliance between WAC and ASUN

ACU football has also partnered with the Atlantic Sun Conference and others. Schubert believes this can exist long term.

“It’s really their automatic qualifier that sits at the Atlantic Sun that we partner with them to have a conference called the United Athletic Conference, they play football. That can exist for as long as we need it to, but I don’t think we can count on that, nor would we necessarily want to. I think one of the priorities for us in staying in the WAC and building it will be specifically to look for additional football-playing schools that might allow the Western Athletic Conference to build an automatic qualifier of its own,” Schubert said.

Schubert mentioned that he believes the main goal is to achieve greater conference stability. When comparing places like Grand Canyon to Abilene Christian, there are some differences, especially in terms of price.

“So Grand Canyon, by any measure, has amazing athletic programs across every area, and they prove it on the field. Right? If you look under the hood, they’re spending about 10 to $12 million more than a school like Abilene Christian every year, without football, and that doesn’t include scholarships,” Schubert shared. “So if you take scholarships out of the picture, and you just look at operating, travel, salaries and benefits, and other related costs, it’s almost double what we’re spending in that. And so that makes it hard to compete. I’ve always said you can’t be funded and that the middle or bottom of the conference expects to compete at the top.”

Republican congressmen introduce bill that would protect NCAA and conferences from legal attacks

Grand Canyon has announced that it will be joining the West Coast Conference. Schubert mentioned that, while he admires their team and coaches, he anticipated this move.

“You also saw them pursuing a trajectory that, if you’re paying attention, you’re thinking, at some point, they got bigger aspirations. It wasn’t a surprise to me when Grand Canyon [and] Seattle announced, ‘Hey, we’re going to the West Coast Conference,’ because they had been building to get to that point. I do think you need to value the philosophy of how we approach athletics, and having a conference where there aren’t major variations in investment that make it difficult to have a competitive landscape is at least something that’s worth noting,” Schubert said.

He added that he would also love the opportunity to take part in an interstate competition that includes all Texas schools.

“If you’re asking me if I would love to see an all-Texas conference at some point, you better believe I would. If I ever get the chance to bring something like that about or have an influence on bringing Texas schools together under a Texas brand to play Texas sports together, especially football, man we would jump at that chance,” Schubert expressed. “If there was ever a state in the country that could do that. Well. It’s Texas. So maybe there’ll be an opportunity for all the movement that’s taking place to emerge as something we could pursue.”

Copyright 2024 Nexstar Media, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

For the latest news, weather, sports, and streaming video, head to KTAB -