This archived article was written by: KC Smurthwaite
Okay, it’s only those with good memories or who have been here awhile who remember “Smurf Turf,” the thinking person’s sports column. “Smurf Turf” took a couple of years off while the columnist did what many young men of his faith do shortly after reaching the age of 19: We pin a name tag on our suits and head off for a couple of years and answer to the name “Elder.”
But I’m back now, and so is Smurf Turf. Why not pick up where we sort of left off, going back to a column published in December 2008? The title of that piece was “Earth to Craig Thompson,” and it was a call out to the Mountain West Conference (MWC) commissioner to “expand now or pay the price.”
Fast forward to now, and Harold Camping could only wish he had the Smurf’s crystal ball. Most of the dust has settled, and the MWC looks as though it got left behind. That gasping noise you hear is from a conference that is sputtering.
BYU? Announced their own football independence,
Utah? Set sail for the Pac-12.
TCU? Headed to the Big East.
Just like that, the three biggest draws are gone. Sure, Boise State signed on, and that would have been a nice little coup, had the three other schools stayed around the schoolyard to play ball with the Broncos. BSU becomes the consolation prize. One good school in, three better schools out.
While the MWC may be gasping for air, the original Western Athletic Conference (WAC) is on life support. First, the Broncos defected. But that was only the warm-up. Hawaii, Fresno State, and Nevada are bolting for the MWC next year. Conference czar Karl Benson went on an expansion hunt that turned more into an expansion scramble. He tried to play it cool, pulling the “no worries,” card from the bottom of the deck, but the future of the WAC is about as bright as a Sunday morning in Seattle.
So the WAC settled for the sure thing, which is to say it settled for less. During the WAC’s expansion scramble, it continually said that “universities with football programs will be the focus.” Well, it sounded good, but in the end, the WAC invited the University of Texas-San Antonio (this will be the inaugural football season for the school), University of Denver (no football program, but a great hockey tradition … close enough, I guess), Texas State (yep, got a football program, although the winner of just four games last year), Seattle University (no football) and University of Texas-Arlington (no football, but vague promises to launch a program in the next five years).
Reports say that six schools from the Big Sky Conference were invited to join the WAC and all of them quickly said, “No thanks.” Big Sky Commissioner Doug Fullerton couldn’t resist throwing a little dirt in the general direction of the WAC when he said, “We’re in a better place than the WAC,” and you could hear the gulps all up and down the Continental Divide. Fullerton then followed up with comments about maybe the Big Sky should invite WAC teams Utah State and Idaho into the fold. Double gulp. Fighting words, anybody?
Let’s bring this a little closer to home. In case the WAC hasn’t noticed, there’s an up-and-coming sports program at Utah Valley University, just over the hill from here. Sure, UVU doesn’t have a football program, but remember, neither do Denver, Seattle and U-T Arlington. UVU was chomping at the bit to join the WAC but never got invited to the dance.
It’s a shame, because UVU is a rising star in athletics. The past two seasons, their major sports programs have posted a 75-25-1 record. And that stat DOES NOT include a UVU baseball team that has gone 48-4 in the last two years. And the basketball team has 26 consecutive winning seasons. Ridiculous!
Some of you are thinking, “But it’s the academics …” Not so! UVU’s academic standing has been on a steady upward swing, too. And the school once known as the place where kids went because they couldn’t get into BYU now boasts a larger student population than the campus higher on the hill. Who’s laughing now?
So here’s my take on it: UVU, don’t settle for the WAC. You can do better. The light is dimming on the WAC. And if the MWC wants to blow the candle out on the WAC, it should invite Utah Valley to the Mountain West. Of course, that football program hurdle will need to be worked out, but that’s not impossible to do.
More changes are in store. Texas A&M accepted an invite to the Southeastern Conference (SEC) at press time. The PAC-12 (or 16) is sitting pretty as the premiere conference west of the Mississippi. The Atlantic Coast Conference and Big East may merge. More moves and changes are likely to come in the coming weeks.
In the meantime, the MWC, WAC, Big Sky and bunches of other small conferences are listening for the clock to strike twelve and then preparing to turn into pumpkins.
How will they survive? I Don’t know. It’s a tough old world out there. You’ve got to be creative. You have to think outside the box. You’ve got to take some risks. Maybe it’s time to call little ol’ Rexburg, Idaho, and see if a once-mighty JC sports program there is willing to be resurrected.
Who knows? Such a bold move might be just enough to reduce the Endangered Conference List by one.