The WAC can breathe a little easier, at least for the 2013-14 academic year.
On Wednesday the conference announced the addition of Texas-Pan American, pushing the number of members to eight for the 2013-14 academic year. The Broncs join Cal State Bakersfield, Chicago State, Grand Canyon, Idaho, New Mexico State, Seattle and Utah Valley as members of the league.
After this season the WAC will lose more than half its members, which left interim commissioner Jeff Hurd scrambling to reach the “magic number” of eight members for next year. Due to realignment the NCAA gave the WAC a waiver to have fewer than eight members next season, but that’s clearly a number the conference wanted to reach with or without such an allowance.
“The addition of The University of Texas-Pan American adds another important piece to the rebuilding of the Western Athletic Conference,” said Hurd in the release. “UTPA brings a program with 60 years of history and success, and we look forward to the Broncs competing at a high level in the WAC.”
UTPA has been a member of the Great West, which is down to just one member after realignment has led to schools such as Chicago State, Utah Valley (both joining the WAC) and Houston Baptist (headed to the Southland) switching leagues. That one member is NJIT, which is likely holding out hope that the moves that have affected America East, the MAAC and the NEC results in their programs landing a seat at one of those tables.
As for the WAC, Hurd’s conference isn’t out of the woods in regards to the future past the 2013-14 year as Idaho will be moving its non-football sports to the Big Sky in 2014 and New Mexico State will likely want a situation in which their football (also going independent in 2013) can join a conference with its other sports (Sun Belt?).
The conference could very well wind up back in scramble mode a year from now (if not sooner), but even with that hovering over the WAC Wednesday was still a positive day for both the conference and UTPA.
“This is a defining moment in the history of UTPA Athletics, and it has been a long time coming. We have been working hard for the last few years to transform this department into one that is no longer content with simply being at the Division I level, but instead has a strong group of student-athletes and coaches who can help us compete for championships while excelling in the classroom and the community,” said UTPA athletic director Chris King in the statement.
“This is another step in that transformation process. Aligning ourselves with a nationally recognized and well-branded conference such as the WAC will allow us to gain national exposure for both UTPA and the entire Rio Grande Valley.”