SALT LAKE CITY — I once dreamed of walking into my house to find the entry had become a garden. The living room was a green field, but the bathroom was only closet. It was quite the far-out trip. Even my home office had changed. It no longer had a desk, computer or swivel chair. It was a swimming pool.
I was in my home but I wasn't.
That's how I feel when I look at the once-familiar Western Athletic Conference. It's not just a revised WAC, shaped by the upheaval in sports. It's not simply rearranging the furniture, either. It's something unrecognizable, like reunion bands that play the small venues. The name is familiar but, seriously, who are those guys on stage?
The WAC's new theme: "Come join us, we're the Jefferson Airplane of conferences."
Utah Valley University announced this week it is joining the league, bringing the total to six teams, none of which was in the first or even second incarnation of the WAC.
This was once a nicely symmetrical conference of geographically linked schools. Then it became a loosely knit 16-team albatross, stretching from Honolulu to Tulsa. Recently it became a fast food drive-through for expanding leagues.
Barring further change, next year it will consist of a half-dozen non-football schools.
All this has been coming for some time. It's no secret the WAC was going the way of stovetop popcorn. Every time the league replaced a departing school, someone else would leave. The killer was when Nevada and Fresno State jumped to the Mountain West, leaving the WAC critically short of football-playing teams. Utah State and Hawaii also left, forcing Idaho and New Mexico State to go independent in football. Even add-ons like Texas-San Antonio and Texas State were soon outbound, forcing the conference to adapt or die.
One thing you can say about the beleaguered WAC is that it's feisty. Instead of continuing to add smaller programs — as it has for the last several years — it finally decided to make itself an Olympic sports league, meaning no football. The plan is to become like the West Coast Conference, which last year received three invitations to the NCAA men's basketball tournament.
That's living large for a conference consisting of mostly small private schools.
All of which brings us to UVU, which has long aspired to be a major sports player. It considered adding football at times, but economic realities prevailed. It attempted to join the WAC in 2011 but was rejected.
UVU officials suspected Utah State of sabotaging the Wolverines because it might hurt Aggie recruiting. Former basketball stars like Tai Wesley and Tyler Newbold, both from Utah County, might otherwise have attended the Orem school.
Eventually enough schools bailed to convinced the WAC to drop football and add UVU. It's hard to imagine, but the once-ubiquitous WAC has become a WCC wannabe.
UVU has often chafed at its place on the Utah sports landscape. That may still be the case unless its basketball team makes the NCAA Tournament. Smack in the shadows of BYU, the Wolverines have usually been an afterthought. But even an upgrade to the WAC won't dramatically change that. Just ask Weber State of the Big Sky, also a Division I basketball league. It still gets spotty attendance and minimal news coverage, in large part due to the competition from USU, BYU, Utah and the Jazz. It occasionally makes the NCAA Tournament and gets a bump in publicity, but soon returns to flying under the radar.
That doesn't mean UVU made a bad choice. It was a great one, considering the Wolverines have been playing conference games at New Jersey Institute of Technology. Talk about a psychedelic dream. In any case, UVU is taking a wise course on two counts. First, it's getting into a conference close to home. Second, it's joining what will be a non-football (read: inexpensive) league.
There could be NCAA tourney appearances, but what there won't be are bowl games or even regular-season football games.
I'm OK with that. Really. I'll adjust. But that doesn't mean I can't be nostalgic.
It's not the WAC's music that throws me. I just wish I could recognize the musicians.
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