Texas State President Denise Trauth, right, said the time is right for Texas State to play top level college football. Photos by Chandler Prude, Texas State University Marketing.
By BILL PETERSON
Texas State made the move up to big time college football Thursday, accepting an invitation to join the 48-year-old Western Athletic Conference (WAC).
The WAC’s status as a Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) conference will automatically advance Texas State to the highest level of college football, one of the most popular and longest running circuses in American history.
“In two years, we’ll be playing FBS football in a 30,000 seat stadium in San Marcos,” said Texas State athletic director Larry Teis, almost as if he couldn’t believe it.
The WAC extended invitations Thursday to Texas State, Texas-San Antonio (UTSA) and the University of Denver. Texas State and UTSA will join the WAC in all sports, while Denver will join in all sports except football. Denver does not have a football team. The three schools will officially join the WAC on July 1, 2012. WAC Commissioner Karl Benson said UTSA has expressed some desire to put off playing a full WAC football schedule until 2013, and that the league is open to that possibility.
Texas State President Denise Trauth said the move up will enhance Texas State’s prestige, adding that as all aspects of the university aspire to greater achievement, the athletic department must be part of that progress.
“There is no public research university in the country that does not have FBS (football),” Trauth said.
Trauth and Teis both alluded to the marketing powers of big time football, its way of putting a university’s name in front of the public and the role it plays in energizing the university and its people. Trauth acknowledged that “there is risk in everything,” but said the time is right for taking this step.
Texas State officials (at the then named Southwest Texas State) began floating the idea of moving up from Division I-AA to Division I-A in 1998. Trauth arrived in 2002 and said the real framework for making the move emerged in the university’s 2006 master plan, while alumni, students and donors increasingly expressed a desire for the university to expand its profile with the move to major college football.
But the big push, Trauth said, came from students, who voted in 2008 to take on athletic fees to subsidize the move to a top level football conference. The student vote significantly alleviated the financial risk involved in spending $10 million per year on a football program.
Teis said the increases in the athletic fee will end in 2015, at which point the student fee will fund about half of an athletic budget that will increase to around $25 million with the move to the WAC. Teis said the present athletic operating budget is about $19 million.
“It put a lot of pressure on,” Trauth said. “The students spoke very loudly.”
With the commitment from students, the university announced “The Drive” to top level college football in the spring of 2008. At that point, university officials began exploratory discussions with conference commissioners, Trauth said, mostly to find out what the leading conferences want in a university. Meanwhile, the NCAA announced a moratorium on schools changing classification until 2011. Teis said heavy discussions with the WAC began about eight months ago.
Trauth said the university’s rapid expansion, growth in PhD programs and increased research funding all worked in Texas State’s favor. The university also has considerably upgraded many athletic facilities, most notably Bobcat Stadium and the baseball and softball stadiums.
The university opened a west side expansion of Bobcat Stadium in 2009 and is scheduled to complete a north side expansion adding 13,500 seats before the 2012 season. The latter expansion would bring Bobcat Stadium to 30,000 seats.
Furthermore, Teis said, the athletic department is in good shape academically to make the move. For the first time since the NCAA began pulling scholarships from athletic programs that don’t graduate players, Teis said, Texas State is in complete compliance.
With the move to FBS, Teis announced no inclination to replace head football coach Brad Wright, who has taken the program on a steady course and still has a chance to notch his third straight winning season. Some fans have called on the Bobcats to bring in a big name to go with the football program’s new profile.
“You’ve got to have people who are dedicated and do hard work,” Teis said. “There are a lot of names that have lost and names have gotten in trouble.”
Teis said the real work begins now that the Bobcats are making a move that will require a higher level of performance in all sports. In particular, Teis said he will have to work on raising football scholarships. As a Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) school, Texas State is limited to 63 football scholarships. FBS schools are allowed to give 85 football scholarships. Teis said he also has to work on a big-time football schedule for 2012 and the future.
By bringing in the three new schools, the WAC replenished its membership, which was down to six football teams after Boise State, Nevada and Fresno State all announced they were going to the Mountain West Conference. Boise State has twice busted the BCS hoops to play major bowl games in recent years, while Fresno State and Nevada have made occasional appearances in the national football rankings.
The only remaining WAC program of much profile is Hawaii, which played in the Sugar Bowl in 2007. Hawaii reportedly is considering going independent. The other WAC schools are San Jose State, Idaho, New Mexico State, Louisiana Tech and Utah State.
What the WAC loses in football prowess, it gains back in media footprint. Of the departing television markets, as ranked by Nielsen, Fresno is the largest at 55th, followed by Reno (108) and Boise (112). In their place will be Denver (16), San Antonio (37) and Austin (48). Combined, the Austin and San Antonio markets have 1.5 million television homes, about the same number as Denver. The departing WAC markets combine for 1.1 million TV homes.
The WAC was formed in 1962 with Arizona, Arizona State, Brigham Young, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming as its charter members. None of those schools is presently in the WAC. Arizona and Arizona State left in 1978 to expand the Pac-10 Conference. After a wave of expansions brought the WAC up to 16 schools in 1996, the remaining original members departed with some of the new members to form the basis of the Mountain West Conference.
Recognizing that the WAC has taken its blows in the past, Benson said it’s just as true that universities have come to the WAC to improve their programs, and often have succeeded in doing so. The best known case in point is the Boise State football program, which is in the conversation for the national championship.
Said Benson of Texas State and UTSA, “Could one of these programs be the next Boise State? Absolutely.”
The WAC has bowl game agreements with the New Mexico Bowl in Albuquerque, the uDrove Humanitarian Bowl in Boise, the Sheraton Hawaii Bowl in Honolulu and the Kraft Fight World Hunger Bowl in San Francisco. The WAC champion receives an automatic berth in one of the five BCS bowl games if it’s ranked in the top 12 of the BCS standings and is the highest ranked team from a conference without an automatic bid, or if it’s ranked in the BCS top 16 with a higher ranking than a conference champion that has an automatic berth in one of the BCS bowls.
The WAC is generally regarded as a “mid-major” conference, a second tier of FBS behind the six most powerful conferences, which are the Big Ten, the Big 12, the Big East, the Southeastern Conference, the Atlantic Coast Conference and the Pacific-10.
After winning consecutive Division II national football championships in 1981 and 1982, Texas State moved up to Division I in 1984 and joined the Southland Conference in 1987. In 23 years in the Southland Conference, the Bobcats have won 51 regular season conference titles and 27 conference tournaments across all sports. Since 2004, the football, baseball, soccer, volleyball and women’s golf teams have each won at least two league titles.
“We have great friends in the Southland Conference, but the institutions are different,” Teis said. ” … I think they understand that it was time for Texas State to make this move.”
Texas State athletic director Larry Teis said the real work begins now that the university is joining the Western Athletic Conference.Email | Print