Thanks mostly to the state of Texas, football returns to the Western Athletic Conference for the first time since 2012 for the upcoming 2021 season. Several things are different than the days of the conference folks remember for stretching from Ruston, Louisiana to Honolulu.
For one, the WAC jumps into FCS play as opposed to FBS like years past with a handful of schools making the jump to division one for the first time.
WAC commissioner Jeff Hurd recently sat down with Underdog Dynasty to give some insight on what to expect in a history-making season for the conference.
Defending FCS Champs Sam Houston State Join The League
With the majority of FCS teams forced to push their season to the spring for the 2020-2021 campaign, last year was anything but ordinary. The Sam Houston State Bearkats persevered and brought home their first FCS championship after upsetting top-seeded South Dakota State in the championship game.
“I think we are fortunate that we have the defending FCS national champion in the conference,” Hurd stated. “That’s a great way to bring football back after a nine-year absence, to draw some immediate attention.”
The WAC inherits a program that went 10-0 last season on the way to the title. Bearkat head coach K.C. Keeler is also the all-time leader in NCAA playoff wins with 24. The Bearkats had ten players receive All-America honors with several set to return. They open the 2021 season on September 2 at Northern Arizona.
The Joint Agreement With The ASUN
“We’re in a joint agreement this year with the ASUN where we have combined forces, in-part for scheduling, but also to create the necessary requirements for an automatic qualifier of the joint conference for football this year,” Hurd stated.
This hybrid conference for just the will feature Abilene Christian, Lamar University, Sam Houston and Stephen F. Austin from the WAC and Central Arkansas, Eastern Kentucky and Jacksonville State from the ASUN.
WAC members Dixie State and Tarleton State will participate in the joint schedule but will not be eligible for the group’s automatic playoff bid in 2021 as they will be in their second year of NCAA reclassification to Division I.
The seven institutions, termed the AQ7, will play a single round-robin with each institution having three home and three road contests. The home team will be responsible for officials and will control media rights and game broadcast inventory.
The team with the highest winning percentage among AQ7 games will receive the automatic qualification to the FCS playoffs. In addition, a trophy will be presented to the conference with the highest winning percentage against the other.
ASUN members Kennesaw State and North Alabama will continue to participate in the Big South Conference for the 2021 season, and WAC member New Mexico State will continue as an FBS Independent.
Southern Utah will join the conference in 2022.
The New “Brand” of WAC Football
“During its football heyday, the WAC was known was a wide open, entertaining conference. As we move forward, we still have work to do in football. Southern Utah still has another year before it joins the conference. While we have a number of true conference games this year, adding them next year will help, and it will be three and three home and away. So we need to have a little patience, but there’s a lot to look forward to.”
The question remains: what will the new brand of WAC football turn out to be? The old WAC was also known for a variety of offenses that were able to stretch the field effectively. Teams like Tarleton State have the opportunity to reinvent themselves in front of the new, larger audience upon making the jump to division one. While this may not mean any dramatic stylistic changes, some tweaks will inevitably be made to accommodate this elevation.
WAC member UT-Rio Grande Valley also hopes to institute an FCS football program no later than 2024 with the door open for more programs to join.
While the WAC’s entertaining history remains, the opportunity has presented itself for the conference to begin a new legacy within the sport. FCS football fans will have plenty to keep their eye on from this rejuvenated conference within the next few years.