Five prospective schools have met with the Western Athletic Conference membership committee as the league holds annual fall meetings in Dallas this week.
WAC Commissioner Karl Benson gave a recap of what took place Tuesday and named the five universities that are being considered as the conference looks to the future. Athletic directors from Texas State-San Marcos, University of Texas-San Antonio, University of Denver, Seattle University and University of Montana attended the meetings. Four of the schools gave presentations.
"The WAC athletic directors were very impressed with all five universities," Benson said Wednesday during a teleconference. "... Four of the schools shared with athletic directors their plans for the future, both from a facilities standpoint and from a funding standpoint. All four were very, very clear they had strong interest in the WAC. All four made very, very impressive presentations."
Dialog with Montana was a bit different. The Big Sky Conference school is currently conducting a feasibility study on whether to make the move from the Football Championship Subdivision (formerly known as Division I-AA) to Football Bowl Subdivision (Division I). Montana has yet to indicate to the WAC its direction.
Benson called the exchange with Montana "very healthy."
"I think the WAC was able to inform the University of Montana what our plans were for the future," Benson said. "And that the WAC was very, very serious about the University of Montana as a future member."
In stories in the Missoulian and by The Associated Press, Benson said Montana is "high on our list."
Montana Athletic Director Jim O'Day was in Dallas attending the meetings.
"It was just to basically answer questions from us, if we had any," O'Day said in an AP story. "Nothing really came out of it other than the fact that they have a real interest in the University of Montana."
O'Day has said he expects Montana will receive an invitation to join the WAC, and some tough decisions will have to be made about whether to leave the Big Sky and move up to the FBS.
"We fit a lot into their mold. But we're also in a good spot where we're at," O'Day said. "It's complicated, and it's going to get much more so in the coming months."
The WAC commissioner called Tuesday's meetings the first stage. The second stage will include the presidents of the WAC schools and the WAC board of directors making campus visits to all five schools. That should happen within the next 30-60 days.
Benson expects formal invitations to happen within that same 30-60 day window. He called that a goal.
"We certainly believe that all five schools warrant and merit continued consideration," Benson said.
The WAC membership committee, which consisted of the six athletic directors from the schools that are not leaving the WAC, was impressed with all five schools, Benson said.
With Boise State leaving after this academic year and Fresno State and Nevada set to depart soon, as well, the WAC needs more schools. The debate on when Fresno State and Nevada will leave is currently being dealt with through lawyers and Benson declined to talk about that subject Wednesday. While the Wolf Pack and Bulldogs want to leave after this season, the WAC has said they cannot leave until July 1, 2012.
The five schools being looked at right now by the WAC, if invited, would begin competing in 2012. Benson said the league wants a minimum of eight football-playing schools and could have as many as 12 total members.
Seattle and Denver do not have football. Texas State of the Southland Conference is a FCS school, but wants to move up. UT San Antonio is starting a football program in 2011 as an FCS independent.
Texas State and UT San Antonio have been very vocal of intentions to move up to FBS. Both have plans and received approval from their governing bodies to do so.
Benson said there is no rush to do something, but there is a sense of urgency. Remaining WAC schools are already dealing with negative recruiting.
"Some are suggesting the WAC will not be around in 2012," Benson said. "We need to send a strong message that the WAC is going to continue to operate."