LAS VEGAS The Western Athletic Conference is unlikely to sponsor football next season, leaving members Idaho and New Mexico State as probable independents in 2013, the leagues interim commissioner said Thursday one day before the 50th anniversary of the leagues formation.
The bottom line, as we sit here today, is I dont believe personally that FBS football is feasible as a conference for 2013, said Jeff Hurd, a longtime conference official who was promoted to interim commissioner in March.
The WAC has seven football-playing members in 2012, but five have committed to new leagues for the 2013 season. Having been left out of the realignment shuffle, Idaho and New Mexico State are exploring independence as the only viable path toward remaining in the Football Bowl Subdivision.
Its much more likely than not that New Mexico State and Idaho will play as independents in 2013, Hurd said.
Idaho has not made a final decision about its athletic future, Athletic Director Rob Spear said. As he has throughout the process, Spear declined further comment until the decision is made.
Football coach Robb Akey, in Las Vegas for the WACs annual media day event, said the uncertainty is having an impact on recruiting and is not good for his program.
Ive got a coaching staff that is worried about the future. Ive got recruits that are going to be a part of us that are concerned. Believe me, I deal with it day-to-day, said Akey, who is entering his sixth season with the Vandals. Thats why I say the sooner we make an announcement the better.
Idaho President Duane Nellis told the Statesman in late June that he hoped to make a final decision before the start of football season. Idaho opens against Eastern Washington on Aug. 30. Nellis said the university is working hard to figure out a way to remain at the Football Bowl Subdivision level.
Nobody seems to want the Vandals right now, Akey said.
The Mountain West and Sun Belt the Vandals two best options for a FBS conference affiliation have made it clear that they are not expanding, leaving independence as the schools best option for playing at college footballs highest level.
But it is not without hurdles.
Independence is a hard road, Akey said. That would not be a long-range plan. In my opinion, I dont think thats a long-range plan that you can say, This is going to work.
The Vandals could face difficulties in filling out a schedule particularly when other teams are in the midst of conference play, finding enough home games to satisfy NCAA requirements and securing a bowl agreement. Idaho would likely be forced to play a number of money games, like this years trip to national power LSU, to aid the budget.
This football team has got a chip on its shoulder, Akey said. Weve very anxious to prove we can do something with this team and we do have a program, and I think that means something to our players. Hopefully some of this nonsense pisses them off a little bit, and maybe that makes us do things a little bit better.
Like Idaho, the WAC is exploring all avenues to keep its league in existence. The league has had conversations with several Football Championship Subdivision schools on the East Coast that are attempting to make the jump to the FBS. But there arent enough of them wanting to make the move at this time, Hurd said, to salvage football in 2013. Perhaps, he said, the league could bring back the sport in 2014 or 2015.
But that means the league must survive until then. Hurd said he had discussions with the Big Sky about a potential agreement to preserve the leagues two bids to NCAA tournaments, but those talks have cooled. Its lost a lot of momentum in the last week or so, Hurd said. Its more unlikely than likely to happen.
Hurd plans to schedule a conference call with the presidents of the four WAC teams that have not committed elsewhere Idaho, New Mexico State and non-football playing members Denver and Seattle in the next 10 days. He will explain the leagues options and hopes for permission to engage potential new members. The league needs to add at least three members to remain as a non-football league. Hurd said there are three or four schools that have expressed interest in joining under those circumstances, but the league has not extended any invitations.
The league is not planning on Boise State, which is still scheduled bring its non-football sports into the league in 2013, moving forward. The Broncos are trying to move their non-football sports to the Big West.
While the Big West Conference has not yet extended an official invitation to Boise State and still must conduct a vote of its membership, I believe we should assume that Boise State will not be part of the WACs future, whichever form it may take, Hurd wrote to WAC officials in a July 1 email obtained by the Statesman.
Formed in 1962, the WAC has gone through many iterations, including football dynasties by Arizona State (1970s), BYU (1980 and 1990s) and Boise State (2000s). None of the six original members remain in the league, all left more than a decade ago. Of the current schools, only San Jose State (1996) joined before 2001. First-year members Texas State, Texas-San Antonio and Texas-Arlington (non-football) committed to new leagues before playing their first WAC game, leaving the conference teetering and its future bleak.
Our board will ultimately make the decision as to the direction we will take, Hurd said. Ive used the sooner than later clichés many times. We need to act sooner than later. Well, later has come.
Brian Murphy: 377-6444, Twitter: @MurphsTurph