The WAC is starting to look like it will transform itself into a Texas based conference. News leaked out late on Friday night that the University of Texas Arlington would be the latest school to make the jump. The University of Texas Board of Regents is set to meet on July 14th to discuss the switch in conference affiliation at 12:20pm.
This is a rather surprising move as UTA was never linked as possible candidate for the membership in the WAC. In June conference officials met with Utah Valley and Seattle with only the latter gaining an invitation to join. WAC Commisioner Karl Benson has now acknowledged having discussions with UT Arlington. Also the presidents of the WAC voted unanimously on June 5th to add UTA as it's newest member starting on July 1, 2012. By leaving without two years notice UT Arlington would be forced to pay a $300,000 withdrawal fee to the Southland Conference.
If added to the WAC this will make three schools now that have moved from the Southland Conference. Texas State and UT-San Antonio made the jump last year and will officially join in 2012. Those two schools are both bringing football programs which is exactly what the WAC needs. UT Arlington on the other hand has no football program of any level. With an enrollment of 33,000 the Mavericks do bring a growing school in a larger market. The basketball program has made it's only NCAA Tournament appearance back in 2007. The baseball team has produced several major leaguers including Houston OF Hunter Pence and Texas RP Mark Lowe.
"Any further comment will come once UT Board of Regents conclude their July 14 meeting."
- Karl Benson
Currently the facilities for the Mavericks are below par but the school is nearing completion of $78 million, 218,000 square-foot event center that is set to open in December of 2011. It will be utilized by the basketball and volleyball programs and for community events. It can take several years for a school to start a football team but that could be a possibility for UTA by 2016.
The WAC is still left with just seven members with football programs in 2012: Idaho, Louisiana Tech, New Mexico State, San Jose State, Texas State, UT San Antonio and Utah State. Denver, Seattle and UT Arlington will compete in all other sports. What has been extremely hard for Benson and current members of the WAC is finding an eighth school willing to join that has a football program started and is ready to make the jump to the FBS.
Montana and Montana State have both been pursued heavily and have decided to not make the jump. One thing I do know that is that Karl Benson better be sending Southland Conference Commissioner Tom Burnett a really nice fruit basket for swiping a quarter of his conference in the last year.