GCU, Seattle departures put WAC, its 3 Utah schools, back in limbo

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SALT LAKE CITY — The college basketball map in the west is shifting again, and a league that has been revived too many times to count is once again in the crosshairs.

Grand Canyon and Seattle U. are headed from the Western Athletic Conference to the West Coast Conference, which will leave the WAC with just eight full-time member institutions: Abilene Christian, California Baptist, Southern Utah, Stephen F. Austin, Tarleton, UT Arlington, Utah Tech and Utah Valley.

Of the group, Stephen F. Austin has reportedly been in deep discussions with the Southland Conference about a return to its former home, as first reported by Extra Points with Matt Brown. Several sources close to the WAC and inside college athletics expect the Lumberjacks to formalize the commitment to its new home soon.

The Lopes and Redhawks will join the West Coast Conference beginning July 1, 2025, competing in 14 of the conference's 16 championship sports and swelling the WCC's membership to 11 full-time members (Oregon State and Washington State will join as non-football members under a two-year agreement for the 2024-25 and 2025-26 seasons).

Where does that leave the WAC, specifically Utah schools of Southern Utah, Utah Tech and Utah Valley?

The first option would be rebuilding the WAC — again — primarily with other schools in the western half of the United States. In that regard, the University of Denver, which played in the WAC for one season in 2012-13, should be considered a top target.

A source indicated to KSL.com that the Pioneers have been in close contact with the conference about a move from its current home in the Summit League. Denver is the western-most school in the Summit League, though Northern Colorado plays baseball and men's golf in the conference and Weber State is joining the league next year as a men's golf affiliate.

Representatives from the WAC did not comment on the departing schools.

But Denver's nearest full-time geographic rivals in the conference are Omaha, Kansas City and South Dakota — a mere 540, 604 and 690 miles away, respectively.

Complicating the math is the WAC's recent decision to re-add football in the form of an alliance between the WAC and ASUN conference, formally but unofficially known as the United Athletic Conference. SFA's departure would leave the WAC side of the alliance with just four football-playing schools: Southern Utah, Utah Tech, ACU and Tarleton.

ACU and Tarleton may have interest in joining the ASUN full-time, according to Extra Points, as well as UT Arlington, which does not sponsor football.

Hence, conversations involving WAC schools and the Summit League could go both ways. Perhaps the league would be interested in adding the trio of Utah schools to form a western coalition along with Denver.

The league does not sponsor football, but four members — North Dakokta, North Dakota State, South Dakota and South Dakota State — currently play in the Missouri Valley Football Conference, a single-sport conference that will drop to 10 members when Missouri State joins Conference USA in all sports in 2025-26.

Brooks the Bison at an announcement that Dixie State (now Utah Tech) would move to Division I and join the Western Athletic Conference, beginning with the 2020-21 school year.
Brooks the Bison at an announcement that Dixie State (now Utah Tech) would move to Division I and join the Western Athletic Conference, beginning with the 2020-21 school year. (Photo: Scott Garrett, DSU UMAC)

Southern Utah was formerly a member of the Summit League from 2007-12, as well as its direct predecessor the Mid-Continental Conference from 1997-2007. The Thunderbirds joined the Big Sky in 2012 before departing to link up with a recently reclassified Utah Tech for the WAC beginning July 1, 2022.

Several sources have indicated to KSL.com that a return to the Big Sky is unlikely for Southern Utah — though those sources stressed that conversations could change regularly in the ever-shifting world of conference realignment.

The Big Sky, of which Weber State is a founding member, hasn't added a full member since North Dakota and SUU in 2012 (Idaho joined the league as a non-football member in 2014 before its football program reclassified to FCS and joined the league in 2018).

Utah Tech joined the WAC in 2020 upon moving up from Division II. Utah Valley joined the conference in 2013 as part of a mass migration that also included GCU, Seattle, UT Arlington (before leaving and returning) and UT Rio Grande Valley.

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