College

Tuesday, Nov 27 2012 10:14 PM

WAC continues to look forward despite departures

BY JEFF EVANS Californian staff writer jevans@bakersfield.com

There's still plenty of excitement from Cal State Bakersfield officials about joining the Western Athletic Conference next season.

But the WAC is continuing to take body blows from departing teams.

On Tuesday, confirming reports from various media outlets from the day before, the University of Denver announced it is leaving the WAC to join the Summit League at the end of the current academic year. Denver, which only joined the WAC this fall, will become the 10th member of the Summit League.

Also Tuesday, the WAC announced it has added Grand Canyon University as a member, effective for the 2013-14 academic year.

Denver is one of 10 basketball-playing members of the WAC this season, but only three of those teams (New Mexico State, Idaho and Seattle) will be WAC members a year from now.

CSUB Athletic Director Jeff Konya was ill and not available for comment Tuesday. But in a statement, he said: "Conference realignment is in flux but the WAC has a course of action to remain a viable and desired conference solution."

Grand Canyon is currently an NCAA Division II institution so it won't be Division I postseason eligible until it completes a four-year transition from Division II.

Grand Canyon's membership in the WAC is contingent on the university completing the reclassification process.

CSUB went through that four-year reclassification process and also had an exploratory year that Grand Canyon is evidently bypassing.

With Denver's departure and Grand Canyon's addition, next year's WAC lineup presently includes CSUB, Grand Canyon, Idaho, New Mexico State, Seattle and Utah Valley.

CSUB, which has been a Division I independent since making the move, rejoiced at the WAC invitation for membership because it put the Roadrunners into a conference with an automatic qualifier (AQ) into the NCAA Tournament in various sports.

But Denver's departure threatens the WAC's AQ status for the future unless it can get its membership numbers up.

The NCAA requires seven basketball-playing members for a conference to be eligible for an AQ into the NCAA Tournament.

That rule is for both men and women's basketball. Grand Canyon won't count in that number until it is a full Division I member.

The WAC has been granted a two-year waiver that allows it to have six members for AQ purposes once it drops below seven.

With Denver's departure, at least one more Division I program must be added for the WAC to get to six NCAA Tournament-eligible teams.

Complicating things further, Idaho has already announced it will leave the WAC to join the Big Sky Conference in all sports except football starting with the 2014-15 academic year. That means the WAC will need to add another institution at that time to replace the Vandals.

The uncertain long-term future of the WAC is the catalyst for the departure from the WAC by Idaho and Denver as they seek more stable athletic conferences.

For the WAC to get its membership to six or seven basketball-playing institutions, it could target programs such as Texas-Pan American or Chicago State, which both compete in the non-AQ Great West Conference.

Another Great West program, New Jersey Institute of Technology, could also come into play if the WAC becomes even more desperate for new members.

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