PHOENIX, Ariz. – The Western Athletic Conference’s roots run deep around here, even though Arizona and Arizona State left that league 34 years ago.
The Sun Devils and Wildcats were among the six charter members of the WAC when it formed in 1962, along with Brigham Young, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming.
Of course, ASU and UA took their Territorial War to what has become the Pac-12 back in 1978, and none of the original members is even in the WAC anymore.
Still, it was a sad bit of news when WAC Commissioner Jeff Hurd said this week that the WAC won’t play football in 2013, and that the very future of the league is in doubt.
While ASU and UA left the WAC a long time ago, there is still good reason to hope the league can hang on — at least if you would like to see Grand Canyon University make the move up from NCAA Division II to Division I in basketball and other sports.
The WAC needs members. Grand Canyon wants to move up.
The hitch is that there just might not be enough time.
“Personally, I think Grand Canyon is one of the schools that has a great deal of potential,” Hurd said. “I think they fit into the WAC footprint very well.”
Trouble is, even if the WAC invited Grand Canyon, the process takes three or four years. Once a 16-school conference, the WAC has four members committed beyond 2012-13 — the University of Denver, Seattle University, Idaho and New Mexico State.
After this season, Idaho and New Mexico State intend to play football as independents while remaining in the WAC for other sports. Hurd didn’t rule out bringing WAC football back in 2014 if he can add enough member schools that play.
However, the conference must have at least seven members that offer a minimum of six women’s and six men’s “NCAA championship” sports to remain alive. And Hurd figures he doesn’t have much time to put it together.
“My deadline was two weeks ago,” Hurd cracked. “There isn’t a hard deadline, but we’re pretty close.
“The problem with adding Grand Canyon is it doesn’t help us from a Division I standpoint right now. Where they could be of help is down the road. We’re aware of them. They’ve expressed interest.
“It’s unfortunate, but we don’t have the time to wait. We have to meet our minimum first before we invite Grand Canyon or anyone else. That’s our first priority.”
Grand Canyon Athletics Director Keith Baker said he has considered asking the NCAA for an exemption to the NCAA’s requirements for changing divisions in hopes of speeding up a move that makes so much sense for the WAC and for Grand Canyon.
“Out in the West, it’s different,” he said. “There aren’t as many institutions or as many leagues. If it means saving an historic league, maybe they would consider it. As it is, we wouldn’t be much help to a conference in need. We’re almost a liability.”
With a burgeoning program of 22 sports that won the Learfield Sports Director’s Cup for all-around sports achievement in Division II this year, along with 5,000-seat Grand Canyon University Arena that opened last school year, the Antelopes are going to be a plum for a small Division I conference.
“We’re very appreciative of our membership in the Pacific West Conference and of our recent success in D-II,” Baker said. “But we have to look at what it would mean for us institutionally down the road to move into a D-I conference.”
Hurd would love to have the Antelopes in his conference — assuming he still has one to run.
“If we can get to the minimum number of members, it makes sense to get that clock started for their Division I status,” he said.