The vultures are circling overhead waiting for the weakened WAC to draw its last breath.
Welcome to college athletics in the 1990s, where the law of the jungle applies: survival of the fittest.The latest testament to that fact is the shocking but not surprising announcement that BYU, Utah and six other schools are leaving the WAC to form their own conference.
They have to. The WAC pond is far too little to support them. They are bolting for greener financial pastures while virtually assuring the demise of those they leave behind.
The WAC was put on life support in February 1994 when it was announced the College Football Association was going out of business. The big boys, led by Notre Dame and followed by the Southeastern Conference schools, were tired of subsidizing the UTEPs and New Mexicos of the world and decided to cut their own TV deals. Under the CFA agreement, all the WAC schools got around $500,000 a year even though they rarely appeared on television. BYU, which had TV games, got more.
The abolishment of the CFA forced schools to face difficult financial situations. They had to choose between economic survivability and loyalty to former colleagues, which could mean athletic death. That's not a pleasant choice and has led to animosity not only in the WAC but other conferences.
The next upheaval will occur in the Big 12 - the league that is a merger of the Big Eight and the now defunct Southwestern Conference. What happens there - it's been reported that Texas and Colorado may go to the Pac-10, Texas A&M to the Southeastern Conference and that Texas Tech and Baylor may be dropped from the conference - could impact a lot of schools, including BYU and Utah. That's the mess Notre Dame initiated as the first school to leave the CFA.
WAC college presidents didn't deal with the new reality very well. Against the wishes of their athletic directors and defying all the principles of economics 101, they panicked in 1994 and added six schools with lackluster athletic credentials and ailing financial health to the league. They only got roughly 40 cents on the dollar going from the CFA deal to the new WAC TV pact. And that was reduced to about 25 cents on the dollar by having to split it six more ways.
One of the reasons they overreacted is they thought BYU and possibly New Mexico might be leaving the conference to go to the Big 12. Still, they had no reason to rush their decision. None of the other conferences was interested in any of the six schools they added to the WAC.
The only upside was a marketing ploy. The WAC claims with validity it is the biggest conference in the country. After the 1998-1999 schedules are completed, the nation's largest league will collapse just three years after its bizarre birth.
It can't survive as it is now. The marquee schools are leaving and it's a geographical nightmare for those remaining, with the four Texas schools (TCU, Rice, UTEP and SMU) and Tulsa to the east and Hawaii, Fresno State and San Jose State to the west and then some. Adding schools like Utah State, Boise State, Nevada-Reno and North Texas State will not salvage the conference. Hawaii at North Texas State. Boise State at UTEP. Not exactly the kind of matchups to make TV executives salivate.
The next year will be an eventful one. Unfortunately, it won't change the basic premise of today's college athletics: The rich will get richer and the poor, poorer.