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WAC makes expansion official, adds 5 new schools

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League goes to 13 total, vastly improving depth with hopes of being a multi-bid league

The new-look WAC
Courtesy, WAC Athletics

Here comes the WAC.

The league made it official Thursday: Southern Utah, Abilene Christian, Lamar, Stephen F Austin and Sam Houston State will join the conference as it resurrects football — which ended in 2012 — and strengthens its depth in hoops.

The Texas four are likely to join the WAC this summer while Southern Utah will join prior to the 2022-23 season.

Chicago State won’t be a part of the new-look WAC according to a school press release, but that isn’t a bad thing as the lowly Cougars haven’t broken the 10-win mark since winning 13 in 2013-14 — its first season in the WAC.

Chicago State is leaving voluntarily, according to the WAC, after the university has faced financial struggles and the school already cut the rest of the basketball season completely off recently. For now, it seems like Chi State wants to stay Division I if possible.

“ ... With assistance and support from the conference, Chicago State is voluntarily ending its membership on June 30, 2022. Chicago State has enjoyed its time in the WAC and is looking forward to finding new membership,” CSU President Zaldwaynaka Scott said in a press release.

The addition of the four Texas schools, along with Southern Utah out of the Big Sky, and the announcement that UT Rio Grande Valley will start football, is clearly, well, mostly about FCS football.

The league could compete as early as next year assuming the Texas schools leave the Southland as quickly as expected. Southern Utah will join by 2022-23 after competing one more season in the Big Sky. The league won’t have an auto-bid to the FCS playoffs right off the bat, but it will consider adding another football school so it doesn’t have to wait for Dixie State and Tarleton State to become postseason eligible.

OK, that is it for football. Let’s talk hoops. New Mexico State finally has more than a few schools worthy of competition after being the main WAC power in recent memory.

“Basketball is a very big part of this,” WAC commissioner Jeff Hurd said during the media availability. “I think one of the misconceptions is that this is totally a football move. That’s not true at all... It does give us an opportunity to increase our basketball strength, increase our basketball profile and as we move forward try to grow this conference even further.”

Here’s how the five newbies stack up per the KenPom numbers: No. 124 Abilene Christian, No. 166 Stephen F Austin, No. 182 Southern Utah, No. 200 Sam Houston State and No. 325 Lamar.

The WAC did say the move isn’t just about football, which is definitely true. The WAC absorbed two of the best Southland teams and that finally gives the WAC the depth needed to be a multi-bid league.

Grand Canyon continues to build and focus on basketball as the main sport for the school, while Cal Baptist and Dixie State each have shown life despite being relatively new to the D-I world. Throw in Southern Utah — a surprise Big Sky contender this season — and two of the Southland’s best in ACU (10-2) and SFA (6-2), the WAC just became a multi-bid contender.

It will be split into divisions with a conference schedule layout being TBD. The league stated that the conference tourney is expected to stay in Las Vegas, but that could change based off new conference leadership and however much sway the Texas six have.

There isn’t anything for sure, but the six Texas fit together nicely while the other seven are close enough (once Chicago State is out that is).

From a near-defunct conference scrapping for membership to an up-and-coming hoops conference, not too bad from the WAC resurrecting not just football — but its entire league.

Geography

Let’s talk maps.

Hurd mentioned “making sense of geography,” as an important part of the expansion. The WAC isn’t exactly the most regional conference but it still will be better than it has been.

The new-look WAC now stretches from Seattle all the way to southeast Texas with schools in Washington (1), California (1), Arizona (1), Utah (3), New Mexico (1), and Texas (6). The hole that Chicago State will leave makes Seattle the odd-ones-out in terms of travel being by are away the most isolated of the WAC schools.

Sure the conference will have a funky year next year when Chicago State takes its victory lap around the conference before it moves on to whatever it is doing, making travel a bit of a logistical mess in 2021-22, but after that things get more simple.

Dixie State and Southern Utah are natural rivals being a close bus ride apart with UVU not super far north. GCU has two Utah teams kinda close along with Cal Baptist. New Mexico State owns New Mexico whenever it can play there again and then there is a six-team=big Texas stamp.

“I think we hit a home run today,” Hurd said.

Time will tell if that holds true, but for now the future looks bright for the WAC.