June 15, 2011
Less than 24 hours after the WAC decided its expansion would only include basketball-member Seattle and the conference would play the 2012 season with just seven football team, the critics started to emerge.
But one critic, Big Sky commissioner Doug Fullerton, actually rejoiced in the WAC's inability to increase its football status. Perhaps that's because several of the teams the WAC courted came from his conference.
Fullerton told the Idaho Statesman that the WAC contacted six of his schools -- Montana, Montana State, Cal Poly, UC Davis, Sacramento State and Portland State -- and that each turned the ebbing conference down.
WAC commissioner Karl Benson told media Tuesday that several FCS schools wouldn't make the jump because they didn't have the financial capability to do so. Fullerton claims it's because his teams know their current conference is in a better position than the new WAC.
"It's not that we're not ready to move," Fullerton told the paper. "We've got schools that are ready to move if they get a good proposal. They could move and make it very easily. Not being ready to move is not correct."
"We're in a better place than the WAC is."
Wow, dem is fightin' woids.
Unfortunately for the WAC, Fullerton isn't wrong.
While yes, the Big Sky is an FCS league and doesn't have a major television contract, it does boast the current FCS national champion in Eastern Washington and Montana played in the last two championship games. The remaining teams in the WAC -- Idaho, San Jose State, Utah State, Louisiana Tech and New Mexico State -- along with Texas State and Texas-San Antonio, have two bowl appearances between them since 2007.
Fullerton said that several of his schools could compete in the WAC immediately and that's probably not an exaggeration. Boise State and Nevada both came from the Big Sky and Boise dominated the league while Nevada was almost always near the top. But the fact that Big Sky schools have had previous success and could probably go in and have success right away now, doesn't necessarily make it the right move. The WAC is barely keeping pace with its FBS counterparts and with just one bowl tie-in in 2012, the conference's appeal is waning.
"It's not that they're not ready," Fullerton said. "That's not the truth. You don't have to get married the first time you get proposed to. You can wait for that offer that's right."
The Big Sky actually just underwent its own expansion by adding Cal Poly, UC Davis, Southern Utah and North Dakota for 2012, which basically eliminated football in the Great West Conference. That gives the conference 13 football schools and they're not stopping there. According to the article, Fullerton said he's looking for ways to court Idaho and Utah State.
"If down the road something happens that those guys understand and realize they can't catch the big guys and there's something else we can do that makes sense and bring some efficiencies back to the budgets of those schools ... Utah State and Idaho are the right kind of schools," Fullerton said.
While neither Utah State nor Idaho have expressed interest in the Big Sky, Utah State has not been shy about its feelings toward the WAC's expansion or lack thereof. In a release by the university, Utah State athletic director Scott Barnes stated he was unhappy the WAC didn't add football members.
"Moving forward our University's position hasn't changed," Barnes said. "The WAC's long-term viability and growth must come in adding football playing members. There are numerous factors that come into play with expansion, but football must be our first priority."
It's been no secret that Utah State has been looking for other options. Officials met with the Mountain West last December and pitched their case alongside Hawaii; the Warriors got the invite, Utah State did not. Since then, Utah State has been adamant about the growth of the WAC because they know options are becoming limited. While the Mountain West could still add the Aggies, it doesn't look like it will happen any time soon.
Meanwhile, the Big Sky is thriving and slowly becoming one of the most formidable conferences in the FCS.