Remember The WAC: A History Of Dead College Football Conferences

BOISE ID - NOVEMBER 19: Kellen Moore #11 of the Boise State Broncos calls the play against the Fresno State Bulldogs at Bronco Stadium on November 19 2010 in Boise Idaho. (Photo by Otto Kitsinger III/Getty Images)

It's been more than a decade since a conference has left college football's highest level, but the once-blooming WAC looks like the next to disappear.

By all accounts, the first 16-team superconference will soon be down to two football schools. The WAC's only option to stay alive as a FBS conference is to convince a half-dozen FCS teams to suddenly ramp up their budgets, which did not go over well the last time the WAC proposed it. It would take a miracle bigger than the 1980 Holiday Bowl for Idaho and New Mexico State to remain as top-level programs beyond this season, no matter how many politicians we'd like to involve.

That's the risk the schools took when they both left the Sun Belt in 2004 to join the WAC. (And that's the risk you take when you build a 16,000-seat gym for Division I college football games.) Conferences die all the time, and for most small athletic departments, choosing which to associate with amounts to not much more than guessing correctly.

Some conferences don't last very long. The Texas-centric Southland only made it seven years at the I-A level, but has survived nearly 50 years anyway, now boasting the FCS title game near its headquarters. The WAC will reach 51 football years, but probably not 52, despite taking Louisiana Tech and three other schools from the Southland over the years.

If there's one thing the Southland and almost every other former major college football conference from the modern era (except the Ivy!) has in common, it's that some of their teams ended up in the WAC. It's always been a conference composed of the living bits of dead bodies. At its best, it was a glorious zombie. By September, one fifth of all 125 FBS teams will have played football as WAC members. It's always been a thoroughfare.

The WAC isn't guaranteed to die, though. Some conferences that vanish from the national eye only self-relegate to a more manageable level. The Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference, once home to future WAC schools BYU, Colorado and Utah, left Division I in 1937. It now has a bunch of schools that aren't actually in the Rockies, proving conference branding has been a problem at all levels for decades. Western Athletic Conference escapee Louisiana Tech must be looking forward to shaking that punch line.


Related: The EDSBS WACtrospective

The Big West also took a step down, giving up on football in 2000 after trying over and over to swell beyond its California borders. The WAC took nine schools over the years --including Boise State and founding members Fresno State and San Diego State -- which surely helped the Big West's decision. Four of its final six football schools made their way to the WAC, and its remaining boundaries have contracted to the borders of California.

The Missouri Valley, the ancient home of Iowa, Kansas State, Missouri and Nebraska, likewise dropped football in 1985, casting Tulsa into independence until the WAC brought them on in 1996.

Other conferences cease to exist entirely. The Border and the Skyline died in 1961 after the WAC took Arizona, Arizona State and New Mexico from the former and BYU, Utah and Wyoming from the latter. Those moves forced Denver to drop football; Colorado State, Utah State and UTEP to turn independent (all ended up in the WAC); and schools like Montana, Northern Arizona and West Texas A&M to wind up at lower levels. Today's roadkill is yesterday's choosy scavenger.

Some are reborn in other forms. The Southern birthed both the SEC and ACC, but lives on as a premier FCS conference. The Big Eight dug through the Southwest's decay for four Texas schools, creating the Big 12. From the Southwest's remains, the WAC grabbed Rice, SMU and TCU. The rotten Pacific Coast Conference was scrapped for what became the Pac-12, with the WAC trying to pluck Washington and Oregon during the interim.

Whenever any conference west of the Mississippi was being broken or built over the past half-century, there was the WAC, looking to take advantage. And there's nothing wrong with that. You don't get to 16 teams without stopping at every yard sale in the neighborhood.


Related: Boise State fans remember the WAC || Utah fans do the same

The WAC brought waves of offensive innovation to college football, like Joe Tiller's "basketball on grass" at Wyoming and the LaVell Edwards attacks that inspired Mike Holmgren, Andy Reid and the Air Raid. The WAC introduced stars like Marshall Faulk and LaDainian Tomlinson and established the weeknight tradition of watching teams in oddball conferences do a bunch of weird stuff that scores a lot of points. The MAC owes a lot to the WAC, you could say.

Last week, I took a shot of NyQuil and watched this while I fell asleep. This is a good way to have really terrible dreams narrated by Jack Donaghy.

The thing that always strikes me when watching space stuff: stars can die. None of them will last forever. They collect matter, space junk whirls around them for a while, and then everything explodes. So everything reminds me of stars right now, even, of course, the death of the WAC.

The WAC was formed just like any other thing: from the scraps of predecessors that were once themselves really something. Its story is the same as all others. It burned as hard as it could, its pieces changed so often that its hard to think of it as having anything to do with its original form, it consumed what it had to, it lost itself little by little over time, and it's very close to dying.

While we’re here, let’s watch some college football videos from SB Nation’s new YouTube channel together:

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