HOUSTON – Western Athletic Conference Commissioner Jeff Hurd today announced membership invitations issued by the conference’s Board of Directors to five universities have been accepted effective July 1, 2022.
Hurd also announced the WAC’s intention to reinstate football at the Football Championship Subdivision level beginning with the 2022 season, with the possibility of WAC football beginning as soon as the 2021-22 season.
Four of the institutions – Abilene Christian University, Lamar University, Sam Houston State University and Stephen F. Austin State University – are in Texas and currently are members of the Southland Conference. The fifth, Southern Utah University, is a member of the Big Sky Conference.
The additions will create a 13-team conference that will be divided into two divisions for team sports other than football, men’s basketball and women’s basketball. One division will consist of the Texas-based institutions including current WAC members Tarleton State University and The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley. The other division will include Southern Utah along with Dixie State University, New Mexico State University, Grand Canyon University, California Baptist University, Seattle University and Utah Valley University.
“I cannot overstate my level of excitement in making this expansion announcement,” said Hurd, “The opportunity to bring five quality institutions into the conference, to significantly strengthen the WAC’s national basketball brand and other championship sport profiles, and to bring football back under the WAC umbrella is one that made sense.
“The end result could not have been accomplished without the collaboration and shared visions of the WAC’s Board of Directors and the Presidents of the incoming institutions. It not only stabilizes the conference for the future; it also positions it for significant growth and success.”
The addition of football will bring to 20 (10 men’s and 10 women’s) the number of sports in which the WAC will sponsor championships. Divisional play only will be held for baseball, softball, volleyball, men’s soccer and women’s soccer with championship tournaments held at the conclusion of each of the conference seasons.
“The WAC has been a strong athletic conference for many, many years with tremendous national brand identification,” said Tarleton President Dr. James Hurley. “The addition of these five outstanding institutions solidifies our conference as one of the best mid-major conferences in the country. Simply put, football is back and the WAC is back, stronger than ever.”
Men’s and women’s basketball will feature both divisional and crossover play with the number of conference games to be played still to be determined. The conference’s tournament will remain in Las Vegas.
The new members, along with Dixie State and Tarleton, will give the WAC seven full-time members that play in, or are transitioning to, the Football Championship Subdivision. It is anticipated that at least one more football-playing member will be added, but a timetable has not yet been established.
“It’s an exciting time for the WAC and all the member institutions with the expansion of five prominent universities,” said Lonn Reisman, Tarleton’s Vice President for Intercollegiate Athletics. “These additions to the WAC will instantly raise the competition across the board in all sports. Commissioner Hurd, the university presidents and athletic directors have done an outstanding job in maintaining the conference’s longstanding tradition and elevating the national brand identity of the WAC as a premier mid-major conference in the country. This expansion, with the addition of bringing football back to the WAC, only enhances the conference’s brand even more.”
The WAC previously sponsored football at the Football Bowl Subdivision from 1962 until 2012. Seven Pro Football Hall of Famers played in the WAC and the conference boasts 43 NFL First Round picks.
“I couldn’t be more excited to add this great group of universities and athletic departments to the Western Athletic Conference. It’s going to be a great move for everyone involved and I’m looking forward to creating, and rekindling, some of these great in-state rivalries. This is a monumental move for our football program because now we can move forward as part of a conference that, I know firsthand, has one of the most prestigious football histories in all of college football.
“I’d like to also say what a tremendous job President Dr. James Hurley has done in advocating for this move. He has been one of the biggest supporters of our football program since his first day on campus and I know that this announcement can be attributed to the hard work he and the other WAC Presidents have done over the last several months. We’re extremely thankful to Dr. Hurley and all of the WAC Presidents for moving forward with this expansion.”