Sam Houston State, Stephen F. Austin, Lamar and Abilene Christian are expected to join the Western Athletic Conference to create a new FCS football conference, multiple sources have confirmed to Texas Football.
In addition to the four new Texas schools, Big Sky member Southern Utah is expected to join the WAC as well. That would bring the WAC up to 14 total member institutions with seven FCS football-playing members. The WAC has not fielded football since 2012, but it has been an open secret that the league hopes to add it once again.
There are still a number of moving parts that need to be worked out. No invitations have been officially accepted at this time, but decisions are expected in the next two weeks. No timeline has been set on when these schools would officially join the conference.
There is also a belief that the WAC will attempt to find an eighth football-playing member to round out the conference. An FCS league must field at least six eligible teams to earn an auto-bid to the FCS Playoffs. Two of the seven members – Tarleton State and Dixie State – will be ineligible as they transition from Division II to FCS.
At this point, the four Texas colleges have declined to confirm the news. A source at Stephen F. Austin said the university has not received an invitation to the WAC at this time, while Sam Houston State told the Huntsville Item’s Josh Criswell that no official decision has been made.
“Our primary focus has always been to do what is in the best interest of our university, student-athletes and coaches,” Lamar athletic director Marco Born said. “With that being stated, we must always keep every avenue open to possibilities of improving our brand.”
Abilene Christian released a statement neither confirming nor denying the reported move.
“The Southland Conference has been an important part of Abilene Christian’s athletic legacy, from our role as a founding member in 1963 and our return in 2013 when we transitioned to Division I,” Abilene Christian said in a statement. “Each time, we moved for highly strategic reasons that positioned the university and its student-athletes for optimum success. Evaluating our athletic conference alignment is an ongoing responsibility of our Senior Leadership Team and any decision would be followed by a public announcement.”
If the move becomes official, it would be a strong blow to the Southland Conference. Sam Houston State has been the most consistent national contender in the conference over the past decade. Central Arkansas, which has won the Southland Conference two of the past three seasons, has also been linked to the non-football Atlantic Sun.
Prior to 2012, the WAC had a 50-year run as a major FBS football league. BYU won a national championship as a member of the conference in 1984, while LaDainian Tomlinson’s TCU and Kellen Moore’s Boise State both made plays for national attention.
However, the best football members of the WAC ultimately left for the Mountain West and the conference was lost to realignment. Now, the WAC is making a push to re-emerge as a competitive FCS football league.
In addition to the seven football schools, non-football members of the WAC include: California Baptist, Chicago State, Grand Canyon, Seattle University, UTRGV and Utah Valley. New Mexico State is also a member of the WAC in all sports except football, in which the Aggies participate as an FBS independent.
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