Could the WAC, which officially adds new members in July, potentially contract in the future?

Publicly and privately, there have been discussions about a potential 12-team future for the WAC, and geographic outlier Seattle University is the most likely candidate for potential contraction

Welcome back to Out of Bounds, a free, weekly newsletter about college athletics. Feedback, tips and story ideas are always welcome at andrew [dot] wittry [at] gmail [dot] com or you can connect with me on Twitter.

Everyone who works in sports media who has ever watched at least one snap of college football was legally required to write a story in April about a hypothetical FBS version of the Super League – the short-lived design for an elite, 20-team European soccer league built around 15 high-profile, founding members, which would’ve replaced the clubs’ involvement in the Champions League. However, the proposed league collapsed within about 48 hours due to public backlash.

An FBS version of the Super League or a Power 5 breakaway from the NCAA doesn’t appear imminent. However, there could be smaller-scale developments in conference realignment in the next few years and some of the general principles behind the proposed Super League – such as optimized scheduling, or maximizing the value of media rights deals and league distributions – could be instructive as we think about potential conference realignment in the future of college athletics.

What you need to know

Here are the highlights from today’s newsletter:

  • The Western Athletic Conference (WAC) announced in January that five universities – Abilene Christian University, Lamar University, Sam Houston State University, Stephen F. Austin State University and Southern Utah University – accepted membership invitations to join the conference, now effective July 1, 2021, which will put the conference at 13 members. While the conference’s initial press release noted, “it is anticipated that at least one more football-playing member will be added,” some athletic directors in the WAC believe there’s a consensus of opinion that a 13-member conference isn’t sustainable from a scheduling perspective, according to emails obtained by Out of Bounds. Plus, emails indicate there’s a desire among some administrators in the WAC for the conference to consider contracting to 12 members in the future, rather than to expand to 14 members.

  • In an email obtained by Out of Bounds, one WAC AD, citing a conversation with WAC Commissioner Jeff Hurd, referenced administrators in the conference who have “the desire to eliminate a geographic outlier,” in regards to the Seattle University. A separate email from the AD referenced the expectation that there will be “clamoring from the AD’s (sic) to go to a 12 team model when we can.” A second AD whose university will be in the conference wrote in an email that he believes there’s a consensus of opinion that “13 doesn’t work with divisions,” as the conference has faced scheduling difficulties this spring.

  • In negotiating the WAC’s next media rights deal, its stakeholders will have to weigh the financial offering of FloSports versus the branding and distribution benefits of ESPN, or a deal with another media company. The conference could even pursue media rights deals with multiple companies.

  • In January, the WAC announced it will reinstate football at the FCS level and in February, the ASUN Conference and the WAC announced a football scheduling alliance for 2021 called the WAC-ASUN Challenge, which will allow a combined seven institutions from the two conferences to compete for automatic qualification into next season’s FCS Playoffs. New Mexico State currently competes as an FBS independent and the WAC’s recent invitations of membership stated that during the first year of membership in the conference, “football-playing institutions will commit to an analysis of all implications of a move to FBS.”


Does geographic outlier Seattle University have a long-term future in the WAC?

One week after the Western Athletic Conference (WAC) announced in January that five institutions, including four from the state of Texas, accepted membership invitations to join the conference, effective July 1, 2022, the WAC then announced that the “Texas Four” – Abilene Christian, Lamar, Sam Houston State and Stephen F. Austin – will instead join the conference July 1, 2021, at their request. That’s a year prior to the original announcement, after the Southland Conference voted for the universities’ expedited exit from the conference.

Southern Utah will join the WAC at the originally scheduled date in 2022.

The WAC added a page to its website that’s dedicated to the conference’s announced expansion and it includes a map of the 13 institutions that are currently scheduled to be members of the conference during the 2022-23 academic year. With an odd number of members, seven universities are currently planned to be in the West division, with the other six members scheduled to be in the entirely Texas-based Southwest division. The map of the WAC’s future conference footprint highlights the degree to which Seattle University is, and will continue to be, a geographic outlier in the conference, especially after fellow WAC geographic outlier Chicago State leaves the conference in June 2022.

Seattle’s status in the next generation of the WAC has few points of comparison in major college athletics: departing WAC member Chicago State, which is arguably both ironic and instructive for Seattle’s future; West Virginia University in the Big 12; and, the University of San Diego in the FCS’ Pioneer Football League, where its closest conference peer this season was Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa.

The distance between Seattle University and its fellow future WAC institutions, combined with the inherent scheduling challenges for a 13-member conference that will be divided into two divisions with an imbalanced number of teams in each division, could lead to administrators in the WAC pushing for the conference to contract in size to 12 members in the future, according to emails obtained by Out of Bounds.

In March, WAC Commissioner Jeff Hurd and New Mexico State Director of Athletics Mario Moccia met for breakfast during the conference’s men’s and women’s basketball tournaments. “We did discuss a few things that will be coming up with the merger he thought,” Moccia wrote in an email to New Mexico State University President Dr. John Floros after the meeting with Hurd, according to a copy of the email obtained through a state of New Mexico Inspection of Public Records Act request. “Seattle U future. He thought the desire to eliminate a geographic outlier was more AD driven than Presidential driven, especially with the incoming Texas schools, one of their President’s (sic) in particular as well as a certain President in the Western division.”

The last line is one worth watching. Since the start of the pandemic, college athletics has frequently provided reminders about how much power lies in the hands of university presidents and chancellors.

In another email Moccia sent to Floros the following month, Moccia – the chair of the athletic directors in the conference – said that with 13 members in the conference during the 2021-22 and 2022-23 academic years, he thinks “there will be clamoring from the AD’s (sic) to go to a 12 team model when we can.”

When Out of Bounds provided a list of questions to Seattle University President Fr. Stephen Sundborg in April about the university’s future in the WAC, Sundborg didn’t acknowledge the email but the next day, the WAC conference office contacted Out of Bounds directly after learning Out of Bounds had contacted Seattle University.

Hurd, the WAC’s commissioner, was adamant that there isn’t an issue within the conference in regards to Seattle University, nor does he expect there to be one, calling it a non-story. After additional reporting, Out of Bounds offered Hurd an opportunity to provide additional comment and he indicated there was no change from his previous response.

Out of Bounds also contacted an associate athletic director for strategic communications at Seattle University in April to offer Director of Athletics Shaney Fink the opportunity to comment. The athletic department didn’t respond.

The WAC held its spring meetings with its athletic directors and senior woman administrators in early May and the conference has a Board of Directors meeting scheduled for June 8 in Denver. In an April email, Moccia told Floros, the president of New Mexico State University, that he wanted them to meet in advance of the Board of Directors meeting to discuss items that will be discussed, such as “scheduling and divisional play, number of schools in the league in the future, the looming TV deal, etc……”

When offered the opportunity to comment, Moccia deferred comment to Hurd.

“What is your take on the membership discussion of going down to a 12 team league vs discussing who the 14th member is,” Moccia wrote in an April email to Stephen F. Austin Director of Athletics Ryan Ivey and Grand Canyon Vice President of Athletics Jamie Boggs. “Also do we have a consensus that a 13 team league isn’t sustainable for the long haul from a scheduling perspective?”

“Yes,” Ivey responded, in part. “I think we can discuss membership and that we either need to get to 14 or go to 12, but…what does that conversation look like with Seattle in the room? I do believe we have concensus (sic) that 13 doesn’t work with divisions.”

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Just how far away is Seattle University from the rest of the WAC?

Using driving distances strictly for comparison purposes, the distance from Seattle University to the nearest member institution in the 2022-23 version of the WAC is 879 miles to Utah Valley University, or roughly a 14-hour drive, per MapQuest. That distance is roughly 55 to 60 percent of the longest driving distances in the conference between any two non-Seattle institutions that will be in the 2022-23 version of the WAC:

  • Utah Valley – UT Rio Grande Valley: 1,605 miles

  • California Baptist – Lamar: 1,586 miles

  • California Baptist – UT Rio Grande Valley: 1,534 miles

  • Utah Valley – Lamar: 1,517 miles

On the page dedicated to conference expansion on the WAC’s website, the conference notes “the average distance between institutions will be 684 miles” in the West division. The average distance – driving, not flying – between Seattle University and the six other projected members of the West division is roughly 1,255 miles, which is almost double the division average.

According to a copy of a proposed WAC men’s basketball schedule for the 2021-22 season, which was dated May 5 and obtained by Out of Bounds, nine of the other 12 teams in the conference are scheduled to play a road game at Seattle, and seven of the nine are scheduled play at Seattle either two days before or two days after playing a road game at Cal Baptist. According to the proposed schedule, Cal Baptist and Seattle will play pairs of road games at Abilene Christian and Tarleton, Grand Canyon and New Mexico State, and Dixie State and Utah Valley over the same three-day spans as frequent travel partners. “I don’t have any major concerns with it,” Lamar Director of Athletics Marco Born said of the schedule in an email.

It’s nearly a 1,000-mile flight between Seattle and Riverside, California, where Cal Baptist is located, which would take roughly two hours and 20 minutes. That’s almost four times the distance between Dixie State and Utah Valley, which were similarly scheduled to host or travel to the same pairs of opponents multiple times in the proposed conference schedule.

A Big 12-sized barrier without Big 12 budgets

Perhaps ironically, one of the few comparisons to Seattle University’s status as a geographic outlier in the WAC is an institution in another conference with a Texas-heavy presence and a focus on football – West Virginia University and the Big 12. It’s roughly an 876-mile drive from Morgantown, West Virginia, to Ames, Iowa, as Iowa State is the closest Big 12 institution to West Virginia. But West Virginia’s athletic department reported more than $86 million in total operating revenue during the 2020 fiscal year, according to the university’s most recently available NCAA Membership Financial Reporting System report.

West Virginia’s athletic department reported spending roughly $6.2 million on team travel last fiscal year. For reference, public universities that will be in the post-realignment WAC reported total operating revenue ranging from $14.6 million (Tarleton) to $20.8 million (Sam Houston State) to $28.7 million (New Mexico State), which are just fractions of West Virginia’s $86 million in revenue.

New Mexico State, as one example, spent $2.5 million on team travel during the 2020 fiscal year, but unlike its WAC peers, it competes at the highest classification of college football as an FBS independent. Without West Virginia-level revenue that the Mountaineers receive from the Big 12’s media rights, and conference and NCAA distributions, West Virginia-level travel spending isn’t practical, let alone possible (or necessarily required), for a WAC institution.

Stephen F. Austin, which reported nearly $1.8 million in travel expenses in the 2020 fiscal year, is requesting a 25-percent budget increase in travel costs, but the department expects to offset its budget increases through revenue increases from the WAC’s conference distributions and other sources of self-generated revenue, according to an email sent by Director of Athletics Ryan Ivey.

Smarter, or more efficient, scheduling has been a recent point of emphasis in college athletics, in large part due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which has had a negative financial impact on athletic departments across the country. Limiting travel was also a consideration in limiting the potential spread of the virus. As suggested by Out of Bounds last July, many college basketball programs played two-game series in conference play last season in order to reduce travel. If more efficient scheduling is a pandemic-era necessity that turns into a lasting point of emphasis in college athletics, then it might make sense for all parties in the WAC to think about the future membership of a non-football-playing university located in Seattle, Washington, in a conference that has embraced the state of Texas and a future heavily built around football, with a potential avenue to FBS membership someday.

An even number of teams in the conference would alleviate scheduling challenges brought on by having 13 members, and while the WAC has previously stated its intent to seek a 14th member, the conference could also reach an even number of members by contracting by one, which would also provide each remaining member with greater conference distributions if the total is being split 12 ways rather than 14.

Even though the WAC once included as many as 16 members, former WAC Commissioner Karl Benson told Sportico he wanted the conference to have a maximum of 12 members, and perhaps the conference could settle at 12 members in the future.

The WAC’s division-only scheduling: ‘It’s a bit of a mess’

The signed invitations of membership from the WAC to its soon-to-be members stated that there will be division-only play during the conference’s regular season competition for baseball, softball, volleyball and soccer, while there won’t be any mandated regular season conference competition in cross country, indoor and outdoor track and field, tennis, golf or swimming and diving.

“We will not send our men’s tennis team to Seattle,” wrote Born, Lamar’s athletic director, in an email, regarding proposed conference tennis schedules for 2022. “We shouldn’t be playing regular season schedules in tennis.”

A few hours after the email containing the proposed tennis schedules was sent, a member of the WAC conference office then told the recipients to disregard the message. “Welcome to the WAC my man,” Moccia responded to Born.

Only the conference’s university presidents can change the scheduling agreement outlined in the membership invitations.

“Unless I receive a directive from the Presidents to the contrary, I am obligated is to present (sic) division-only schedules for approval,” Hurd, the WAC’s commissioner, wrote in an email to the conference’s athletic directors in April.

That agreed-upon, division-only scheduling model has led to some disagreements among the conference’s athletic directors, who were reportedly split on the conference’s approach to scheduling. “It’s a bit of a mess,” Moccia wrote in April.

In an email to the conference’s athletic directors after one meeting, Hurd wrote, “I also apologize for getting a bit out of character on the last call.”

The WAC is using a consultant, Chris Groer, to assist with its basketball scheduling, which will include cross-divisional play. The WAC provided Groer with its desired scheduling stipulations, such that the conference wanted each team to play 18 regular-season conference games with nine at home and nine on the road, with each team playing a double round-robin schedule against its divisional opponents. That would leave the seven teams in the West division each needing six conference games against Southwest division opponents, but teams in the Southwest division would each need eight games against West division opponents. The WAC told Groer that under the model it wanted, no team would play the same opponent more than twice in the regular season, nor would any team host another opponent more than once.

The request was impossible.

After two days and the reported use of three computer systems running simultaneously, it was determined “with irrefutable mathematical certainty that this is impossible,” according to one email, even though that reality was immediately apparent to at least one administrator in the conference.

“It took me two seconds to determine this was not mathematically possible,” one WAC administrator wrote in an email. “If this is the direction we are going there is no way the west can play a full round robin.”

“The given elements of our scheduling situation means we’re essentially in a patten of ‘whack-a-mole’ trying to make improvements,” WAC Deputy Commissioner and Chief Operating Officer Ron Loghry wrote in a subsequent basketball scheduling update in April.

Cal Baptist interim Director of Athletics Ron Prettyman wrote to Moccia, “Can we move Chicago State to the Southwest region? They are Closer to to Texas than to CBU.”

Chicago State announced in January that it will leave the WAC in June 2022, meaning next season will be its last in the conference, when it will overlap for one season with the “Texas Four.” “Once again that was in these teams side deal not to be with Chicago State,” Moccia responded. “Would have been nice to know all these parameters BEFORE we struck a deal.”

“I was not aware of that either,” Prettyman wrote back. “Frustrating that we are bending over backwards for the new members with little reward for the ones of us that have been loyal WAC members. Oh well. I guess this was one way to save the WAC.”

The proposed conference basketball schedule obtained by Out of Bounds included Chicago State playing both home and away games against Stephen F. Austin, potentially suggesting that either concessions were made by Stephen F. Austin or that there was no other way for the conference to create adequate schedules for 13 teams. In the proposed schedule, Abilene Christian, Lamar and Sam Houston State each only have one regular-season game against Chicago State, with the games being played at home for Abilene Christian and Lamar, while Sam Houston State’s trip to Chicago State comes after a bye.

Eventually, the WAC turned to the schedule previously used by the Mid-American Conference (MAC) when it had basketball divisions and the WAC inputted its member institutions’ names in the schedule as one potential model, which would allow for a double round-robin schedule within each division during a 10-week timeframe. “This is not a perfect schedule given what we’re faced with, so one of these models needs to be selected,” Loghry wrote.

“We are at odds a little over the scheduling of the Olympic sports and divisional play but I think it will get worked out well in advance of your President’s meeting,” Moccia wrote to Floros in April. In a subsequent email, Moccia wrote that it “looks like Jeff [Hurd] will ask us to make due (sic) with the divisional play until we have an even number of teams in the league.

“I do think with 13 this coming year and 13 the next there will be clamoring from the AD’s to go to a 12 team model when we can.”

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Is there any chance the WAC builds around Seattle?

It’s also worth acknowledging – even if only as a theoretical scenario, in order to cover all of the potential outcomes – that if the WAC were to add a 14th school that’s located in the greater Pacific Northwest, then Seattle University could have a (more efficient) travel partner in some sports, such that opposing schools in the WAC could make one trip to the Pacific Northwest but play two conference opponents rather than just one.

However, the WAC’s invitations of membership stated, “The Conference will seek a 14th member which will sponsor football and will align geographically with the Southwest Division,” according to a copy of one of the invitations obtained by Out of Bounds, with the Southwest Division referring to the division full of Texas-based schools. It would be a potential move that would balance the number of schools in each division at seven apiece and it would also give the conference eight full-time members that will play football at, or that are transitioning to, the FCS level. But such an addition wouldn’t mitigate Seattle’s status as a geographic outlier. Instead, it would add another member on the opposite end of the conference’s geographic footprint from Seattle.

In the list of questions Out of Bounds provided to Seattle University President Sundborg and the university’s athletic department in April, university leaders were asked whether they, or other administrators in the WAC, have discussed the potential for the conference to add a 14th member institution in the greater Pacific Northwest in order to give Seattle a regional travel partner. The university didn’t respond.

The WAC’s expansion website has acknowledged that a significant part of the conference’s future will be built around football and member institutions that are “located in the nation's two fastest growing states (Texas and Utah) since 2010.” The expansion website mentions how the WAC’s newest members are located in “high-growth, warm weather areas.” Even if Seattle University is based in Seattle, it’s not the University of Washington. As former WAC Commissioner Karl Benson told Sportico in regards to San Jose State, “There is a difference between having population versus delivering population.” Sportico reported, “Benson says, San Jose State was ‘the small school in the huge market that couldn’t average 15,000 [fans].’”

A private, Jesuit university located in Seattle that has an enrollment of roughly 7,000 students – roughly 4,300 of whom are undergrads – may not only be a geographic outlier, but its institutional profile is arguably among the minority in the conference, too. It may not help that Seattle’s men’s basketball program has posted a combined 52-77 conference record since joining the WAC in 2012 and it has only finished above .500 in conference play once in the regular season.

“Don’t discount the fact that we could also be a 12-team league, you know if one of the current members decided to do something else,” Moccia said on a March episode of the university’s Ask The AD podcast, when he was asked a question from a fan about what would be a realistic timeline for the addition of a 14th member. “So, there’s a lot of different possibilities that we’ll discuss. I think – just talking to different people – 12 sounds a lot better than 14. Fourteen can get a little bit cumbersome from a scheduling standpoint and also from a revenue-sharing standpoint. Better to share with 12 than 14.

“And who knows that better than us, right? When we were 12 in the Sun Belt – us and Idaho – they had said, ‘Hey look, you’re no longer in our plans anymore because you’re not in our geographic footprint,’ and their 12-team league became 10, so they’re sharing whatever monies they got with 10 instead of 12.”

If the rest of the WAC were to try to force out Seattle University or if Seattle University were to leave the WAC voluntarily after a little, um, encouragement, then the conference could potentially find an eighth member institution that sponsors FCS football from within its own membership. That would allow the conference to contract its overall size but still increase the number of member schools that play football. Additional WAC universities could potentially add an FCS program, such as UT Rio Grande Valley.

The WAC’s invitations of membership noted, “UTRGV indicates intent to begin an FCS program effective preferably with the 2023 season and no later than the 2024 season.” During the first year of membership in the WAC, “football-playing institutions will commit to an analysis of all implications of a move to FBS.”

In an email Moccia sent in November 2020, he wrote of the WAC’s soon-to-be-announced plans for expansion, “Looks like the WAC could be on the cusp of adding anywhere from 4-7 teams. I assume Chicago State is on its way out and there is a very real possibility that the WAC could sponsor FCS football. What is great is there are several teams that have their eye on FBS membership and if that is the case perhaps instead of us going to C-USA or the Mountain West, a football league forms around us.”

Where would Seattle University go if it were to leave the WAC?

In the 1950s, Seattle University was one of the more successful men’s basketball programs in the country. The Redhawks made the NCAA tournament in five of their first six seasons as a Division I program, including a national runner-up finish in the 1958 NCAA Tournament. From their first season competing at the DI level in the 1952-53 season through the end of the ‘60s, Seattle made 11 NCAA tournament appearances in 17 seasons, while winning nearly 74 percent of its games.

This is the program that was home to Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Famer Elgin Baylor, who averaged roughly 30 points and 20 rebounds per game at Seattle after starting his college career at the College of Idaho and who’s responsible for one of the longest, game-winning buzzer-beaters in NCAA tournament history. But it’s also a program that hasn’t made the NCAA tournament since 1969 and the university dropped out of the Division I level for 30 years, starting in 1980. Depending on if, when and how the back-channel conversations in the conference are brought to the forefront – and most importantly, whether the university presidents in the conference ever act on some athletic directors’ suggestions for a 12-team conference – then Seattle may need to start evaluating potential options for another new home in the future.

Given Seattle University’s location, enrollment and the status of its men’s basketball program (ranked No. 213 nationally last season, according to kenpom.com), if the university pursues membership in a different conference in the future, it could have a select number of options, especially given the quality of many of the Division I men’s basketball conferences on the West Coast. During the 2021 men’s basketball season, the West Coast Conference finished as the eighth-best conference out of 32 conferences, the Mountain West Conference finished 11th and the Big West Conference ranked 15th, according to KenPom.

The Big Sky Conference, which currently has 11 full-time members in men’s basketball and 13 members in football, will lose Southern Utah to the WAC after next season. However, all of its members sponsor football at the FCS level. The conference has affiliate members in football and men’s golf.

The Big West currently has 11 full-time members after adding Cal State Bakersfield and UC San Diego prior to last season, but as has become more popular in college basketball, the conference planned for 20-game conference schedules last season, which would allow a conference with an odd number of members to hold a double round-robin schedule. A theoretical 12th member would disrupt that model.

“Ideally, you’d love to have every team play each other twice, because it helps your tie-breaking scenarios, your seedings for your championships and those type of issues when you’re playing everybody twice,” Big West Commissioner Dan Butterly told Out of Bounds, when asked, in general, about the considerations conferences might have when deciding upon a number of members, including in regards to basketball scheduling.

Out of Bounds reached out to the Big Sky and Big West – exclusively speaking in general, without any mention of any specific institutions – to ask what committees or processes conferences have in place to evaluate their membership and potential new members, as well as to discuss recent changes in conference membership in college athletics. A Big Sky spokesperson didn’t respond to a request for comment.

“Every five years it seems there’s a major shakeup in college athletics,” Butterly said, adding that he would anticipate that any institutions interested in potential future membership in the Big West would first contact him, as the commissioner.

A prospective new member to the Big West must file a written application with the Big West Conference Council and then receive the approval of at least a three-fourths vote of the total membership of the Board of Directors, according to the conference’s manual.

“You see the changes that are happening with the Western Athletic Conference and the Atlantic Sun, the ASUN Conference, they’re becoming FCS conferences,” Butterly said. “They’ve added football schools and so I think you’ve seen that shakeup there. You’re going to see the lower Division I athletic conferences, a lot of those institutions are going to evaluate – you know, you look at Hartford and what just happened to Hartford.

“Crazy enough, in the morning, UC Riverside comes out and indicates that they’re going to stay Division I and we’re very thankful for that. They’ve gone through a thorough athletic department review and their budgets and what they want to do moving forward. We’ve been a part of that and understand where they’re at, and obviously you look at later that afternoon, you see the information on Hartford, that they’ve gone out and done their same review and they’ve decided to go Division III. I think you’re going to see some of that shakeup in the middle to lower end of Division I, that they’re going to evaluate what they’ve got budget-wise coming out of Covid, really get back to the philosophy of why you have an athletic department at your university and then make the decisions based upon that philosophy moving forward.

“I’m glad Riverside did what they did, was very thorough about it and came back and said, ‘Hey, we think we want to stay Division I and we’re going to make it happen,’ but I think that’s going to happen across the country in many ways. As I’ve told our membership, you look at some of these conferences, some of the institutions that are out there you see in D1.ticker that, ‘Hey, we’re losing $30 million this year, $50 million – because of Covid – in revenue.’ I mean, our institutions would love to have $30 to $50 million in revenue in our Division I athletic programs. It’s just where we’re at in college athletics at this point.”

The WAC’s next media deal

The WAC’s current media rights deal is with ESPN and the conference is using a consultant to advise the conference on its next deal.

If the WAC sponsors football at the FBS level in the future and if it receives a portion of the College Football Playoff revenue – it’s a pool of revenue that sends roughly $90 million to the Group of Five conferences to share and it’s one that could grow if and when the playoff field expands – then some of the WAC’s member institutions could come close to reaching, or even surpassing, the $30-million mark in annual athletic department revenue.

But first, the conference needs to negotiate a new TV deal.

“It will come down to FLO Sports (sic) and their ability to send more money to the schools vs ESPN and their brand and distribution,” Moccia wrote in an email. “To some schools they will want to grab the money, to [Grand Canyon University] they will want distribution.”

Ahead of a meeting with the WAC’s television committee in April, Hurd spoke with Tag Garson, senior vice president of properties and head of global at Wasserman Media Group. The discussion included under what circumstance, if any, the WAC’s institutions would be willing to walk away from ESPN, the possibility of media rights deals involving multiple outlets and the consideration of a backloaded contract if the conference can’t deliver an “appropriate” number of events in the first one or two year, given the timing of the conference’s expansion.

The WAC would need to provide 100 events in football and men’s basketball, and ESPN would cover the cost of production for linear television, but not digital, according to one email. Schools that currently receive one game per year on linear television could potentially receive six or seven in the next media deal, but Grand Canyon is reportedly “concerned about linear and losing their MBB games on TV.”

The WAC’s invitations of membership stated, “All members will be committed to consistent web streaming with applicable broadcast standards to maximize ESPN distribution (or other potential providers) of Conference content.” Under a potential deal worth $1 million annually, each school, plus the conference office, would receive roughly $71,000, according to one email.

“From my standpoint it all depends on the money,” Moccia wrote to Hurd and the rest of the WAC’s television committee. “Some schools don’t need it … and some desperately do. I am one of those schools that need the cash. I for sure would love to say hey we are on ESPN, etc….. but in the end I am not watching OVC games on ESPN that often ([Abilene Christian Director of Athletics and former Murray State Director of Athletics] Allen [Ward] not a slam) so for me the money is pretty darn important. I know the coaches want the exposure but I need the revenue to pay those same coaches and I can’t pay them in exposure.”

“Wanted to make a comment,” he continued, “we are 13 this year and 13 the next but if we did drop to 12 in a subsequent year I would hope we would write in the contract not to lose any revenue, etc……..with a one school reduction.”

Over the course of the next year, the WAC will explore the potential implications of a future in which it competes in the FBS, and according to emails sent by conference stakeholders, some administrators in the conference may not want that future to include a 13-member conference, nor Seattle University.

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In case you missed the last newsletter:

How schools are differentiating their approaches to athlete branding

“By themselves, the addition of personalized logos for recruits, jerseys featuring social media handles, brand coaches on coaching staffs and even for-credit NIL courses might be unlikely to change the fortunes of a program, but each element could be representative of a larger branding and marketing strategy that aligns all corners of a university’s campus around its athletes’ NIL rights, which could collectively improve a program’s outlook, especially when universities will soon be able to show future recruits the actual receipts from what their athletes have earned from their NILs.”

Read the full newsletter here.


Thank you for reading this edition of Out of Bounds with Andy Wittry. If you enjoyed it, please consider sharing it on social media or sending it to a friend or colleague. Questions, comments and feedback are welcome at andrew [dot] wittry [at] gmail [dot] com or on Twitter.