Aggies seem tied to WAC, for better or worse - Albuquerque Journal

Aggies seem tied to WAC, for better or worse

Everything that has occurred in the past several months seems to indicate that New Mexico State’s Olympic (non-football) athletic programs are tied to the Western Athletic Conference.

For better or for worse.

The WAC recently added Division II transition member California Baptist University for 2018-19.

If the league’s current membership were to stay put for the long term, the WAC appears to have stabilized itself in the current landscape of one-bid mid-major basketball conferences. That’s assuming anything in this day and age would be costly, as would standing by and hoping for the best. That is, after all, how NMSU ended up in its current situation as former members left the conference for greener pastures.

To his credit, Chancellor Garrey Carruthers was at the forefront of an effort to promote NMSU as a viable addition to the Mountain West or C-USA, but it proved to be too late.

NMSU leaders must remain proactive to avoid repeating history.

If recent action provides any guidance, the strategy is clear: continue to dominate a conference content to add (transitional) Division II schools. Unless of course, there comes an offer athletics director Mario Moccia simply could not pass up.

“We would always look at opportunities, and if someone was interested enough, we would certainly take the phone call,” Moccia said.

NMSU football will play an independent after its final season in 2017 in the Sun Belt Conference. The university determined last summer that dropping to FCS football would cost it more than $1 million per year in lost revenue.

There has been movement among conferences that would appear to have implications to the NMSU Olympic sports programs, but leaving the WAC just doesn’t seem to interest NMSU right now.

If it works out, NMSU, Grand Canyon, Missouri-Kansas City and Bakersfield are capable of carrying the torch for the WAC. Despite spanning from Seattle to Chicago, travel in the Western Athletic Conference is manageable for NMSU. The addition of Cal Baptist, located in Riverside, could even make the Bakersfield trip a one-flight road trip for two games.

There appears to be another opening in the Big Sky Conference, this time for Olympic sports, after the announced departure of North Dakota last month. But the Big Sky does not sponsor baseball and swimming, and if a dream scenario including football presents itself in the meantime, the university would likely be on the financial hook for exit fees and a substantial entrance fee into a future conference.

The worst-case scenario is NMSU repeats history as the last legitimate athletic institution standing in the WAC.

Despite the WAC posting its highest conference RPI (No. 19) in men’s basketball since the current membership came on in 2013-14, all schools except Bakersfield have been linked as possible additions to other leagues — or in Chicago State’s case, to an elimination of an athletics program.

Grand Canyon is an attractive addition to another league for many reasons, such as facilities, competitive programs and its location in Phoenix. Its status as a for-profit institution seems to be holding it back. But if the Big Sky were to show interest, GCU could pair with Northern Arizona as a more suitable travel partner than NMSU.

UMKC has been linked to the Missouri Valley Conference should Wichita State add football and look to leave. Texas Rio Grande Valley is in the process of adding football, in which case a move to the Southland Conference would seem likely.

In a conference call after North Dakota’s recent departure from the Big Sky, conference commissioner Andrea Williams indicated the league was in no hurry to replace North Dakota after UND leaves in 2019-20. Prior to Williams replacing Doug Fullerton, Big Sky officials were scheduled to visit Las Cruces over the summer. But NMSU cancelled the visit and elected to remain a FBS program.

“I know there was initial interest, but things did not advance beyond that,” Williams said. “They (NMSU) are going FBS as an independent … so we haven’t engaged or had those conversations with them. We know that in the collegiate landscape, things are ever-changing. We meet with administrators and presidents this summer, and you never know what may pop up on the agenda. But as of today, there haven’t been conversations in that regard.”

It appears that NMSU is all in on FBS football with the hope of landing all sports in a quality conference, meaning they are willing to overlook potential short-term solutions or the easy fix.

It’s a gamble with tremendous upside that could just as easily result in the disintegration of the WAC as a Division I conference with automatic NCAA tournament bids.

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