WAC football to return at Football Championship Subdivision level in 2022

By Kevin Kelley -

The Western Athletic Conference (WAC) will reinstate football at the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) level in 2022, the conference announced on Thursday.

“I cannot overstate my level of excitement in making this expansion announcement,” said Western Athletic Conference Commissioner Jeff Hurd, “The opportunity to bring five quality institutions into the conference, to significantly strengthen the WAC’s national basketball brand and other championship sport profiles, and to bring football back under the WAC umbrella is one that made sense.

“The end result could not have been accomplished without the collaboration and shared visions of the WAC’s Board of Directors and the Presidents of the incoming institutions. It not only stabilizes the conference for the future; it also positions it for significant growth and success.”

Five schools are moving to the WAC from other conferences. Abilene Christian, Lamar, Sam Houston State, and Stephen F. Austin State will move from the Southland Conference, while Southern Utah will enter from the Big Sky Conference.

The four Southland schools are “…petitioning the WAC Board of Directors for entry into the conference beginning on July 1, 2021.” If successful, it’s not clear whether these four schools will play in the Southland this fall or compete as FCS Independents for one season.

Two other schools, Dixie State and Tarleton State, will also join the WAC football lineup in 2022. Both schools are current members of the WAC in other sports, but their football programs are both Independents. Both schools will be playing their first season at the FCS level this spring.

The WAC is also anticipating that “…at least one more football-playing member will be added, but a timetable has not yet been established.”

The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley (UTRGV), also a member of the WAC, has submitted a letter of intent to start a football program within five years, according to TexasFootball.com. The report states that UTRGV is “targeting the 2023 season” but has “committed to begin the program by 2024.”

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Comments (23)

I actually think it’s worth it for them to hold it out a few more years. I can see at least one school leaving the MWC in the next round of realignment for greener pastures in a few years, and NMSU would likely be at the top of that list, or would be a shoe-in to replace a school in CUSA if they were to move up.

Yep, it’s a good safety net for NMSU. They can keep hoping an FBS conference will rescue them, knowing that there’s an FCS home waiting for them if they do give up on FBS. They didn’t have that FCS safety net until now because of their remote location.

I don’t see that happening. I actually think it’s more likely that they will join the Mountain West conference for all sports.

I actually don’t see that happening. I think it’s more likely that they will join the Mountain West conference for all sports.

Sometimes it is not about travel, but about building a better brand with another conference and create better competition. You add Stephen F. Austin, Southern Utah, and Sam Houston State with a conference that already has New Mexico State, Grand Canyon, and Cal Baptist. This is gonna be a really strong basketball conference here in a few years

They’ll probably join the Big South for football like the other ASun schools like Kennesaw State, North Alabama, etc.

Read an article that the ASun is trying to go FBS with football with a 6 team conference:

1. Kennesaw State (already ASun in other sports)
2. North Alabama (already ASun in other sports)
3. Liberty (already ASun in other sports)

4. Central Arkansas (just joined ASun)

5. Eastern Kentucky (OVC/just missed going FBS when Sun Belt expanded and got passed up by Coastal)

6. Jacksonville State (OVC)

That would be interesting as most of those schools are already near the top of the FCS, & Liberty has already proven they can compete at the FBS level. However, I think they need to get a couple more football schools to get to at least 8. It would be interesting if the ASUN & WAC both moved up (as the WAC has also been rumored to be interested in getting back to the FBS level). In that scenario, the American could possibly become a power conference to even it out at 6 each, Power 6 & Group of 6.

Correct, Liberty will stay FBS, but if the idea is for ASun to go FBS, Liberty would already be in the conference. At no point did I say Liberty would drop.

I think you conflated the six-team conference with going FBS. They want six teams now to have an automatic bid to the FCS playoffs. At least that’s the way I read it.

Moving to FBS I would imagine they would have 8-10 by that time, including Liberty.

I wouldn’t be shocked if NMSU drops down to FCS and join the WAC full time soon.
I also wouldn’t be surprised if Seattle and Cal Baptist leave the WAC as the geographic footprint moves east. Possibly join the WCC or Big West?

So it would appear that the 7 football schools will be:
SUU, Dixie St, ACU, Tarleton St, SFA, Lamar, SHSU, and potentially NMSU and UTRGV as 8th & 9th members.

Both the WAC and the ASUN plan to go FBS before the end of the decade and ideally somewhere in the middle. The ASUN will have to find 2 more teams as you need at least 8 teams in a conference for FBS. I have no idea who they intend to target to get to an 8 team league, but I do know from contacts at Central Arkansas that they are planning an FBS move.

As far as the WAC is concerned, they too are planning an FBS move. Though the earliest is 2025 because Tarleton has to go through 4 years of FCS transition before they can move to FBS. Dixie St will most likely move to the Big Sky. UTRG also will stay FCS when/if it forms a football team…rumors are they are moving over to the Southland. Once the WAC officially announces the move to FBS ( Hopefully before then) It will take on a few more football playing members. Weber St already gave the WAC a hard “NO” but the other schools the WAC are trying to court are Montana, Idaho, Cal Poly, UC Davis, Sac St, as well as any of the 4 Dakota Schools. All they really need is one but will take up to 5 of them. The problem is they need at least one in the near future (2022 Football season) so they can have at least 6 teams to qualify for the FCS playoffs for now. Tarleton and Dixie St are transitioning from DII and do not count as far as that is concerned. Any other DII move up is not a consideration. Sorry Angelo St/WTAM! The best guess as of now is that since the Big Sky wants to work closely with the WAC in order to have another FCS league in the West ( for now…..) that the BIG Sky’s “Football only members” Cal Poly and UC Davis will be “highly encouraged” to join the WAC.

The latest rumor I have heard was that UC Davis and Cal Poly were going to be “encouraged” by the Big Sky to join the WAC… Not sure if their is any truth to that, but that is the buzz I am getting in my ear.

New Mexico State is not dropping down to FCS. The Big Sky will also not “encourage” UC Davis and Cal Poly SLO to move to the WAC and throw away ⅔ of their extremely important California recruiting opportunities. New Mexico State in the WAC, and Liberty in the ASUN, are both trying to create FBS leagues around themselves after being rebuffed in previous attempts to join the current FBS conferences.
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As for those people asserting that New Mexico State should drop to FCS, they have always played at the equivalent of what is now called FBS and have no desire to give up all that history, regardless of how much they have struggled at times. Furthermore, they already have one built-in home game every year due to their historic rivalries against New Mexico and UTEP, which makes scheduling less difficult.
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The next challenge for the WAC might be finding a non-acrimonious way to break up with Seattle and eliminate their last geographical outlier since Chicago State is leaving in 2022. Seattle would actually be a very good fit in the Big West, as a northern balance to Hawaii, and give that league a second non-California member. Playing in California should also be a bit more appealing to Seattle than Texas.
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What would be left is a 12-member WAC with 7 (and potentially 9) FCS football programs – Cal Baptist (non-FB), Grand Canyon (non-FB), Utah Valley (could add FB), New Mexico State (FBS), Southern Utah, and Dixie State in the West – and Abilene Christian, Tarleton State, Sam Houston State, Stephen F. Austin, Lamar, and UTRGV (expected to add football) in the East. Then they can look to move to FBS.