Since this topic has already come up (Andy Katz made brief mention of it in the sidebar to an ESPN story.), I wanted to explain the auto bid rules for the NCAA Division I Men's Basketball Tournament for everyone, since they aren't that easy to fins on the Internet. Follow me past the jump for more.
In short, the WAC is in serious danger of losing its auto bid in the near future if BYU changes its mind and the conference doesn't respond through expansion.
I've uploaded the relevant PDF of the NCAA by-laws on automatic qualification to the site, so feel free to read it if you want the full explanation for all championships. (NCAA link)
But since this is a basketball blog, and Division I hoops has more specific rules regarding AQs than others, I'm going to go through them, and how they'd apply to the WAC's remnants.
1) The member conference must include seven core institutions.
The WAC is covered if BYU joins. If they don't, the conference must expand.
2) For the purposes of this legislation, core refers to an institution that has been an active member of Division I the eight preceding years.
Again, the WAC is in good shape, as BYU, Hawai'i, Idaho, Louisiana Tech, New Mexico State, San Jose State, and Utah State are all longtime members of D-I.
3) Further, the continuity-of-membership requirement shall be met only if a minimum of six core institutions have conducted conference competition together in Division I the preceding five years in men's basketball.
Hawai'i, Idaho, Louisiana Tech, New Mexico State, San Jose State, and Utah State barely meet this qualification, as they first competed together in the WAC during the 2005-2006 academic year. The 2009-10 season marked five years.
4) Any new member added to a member conference that satisfies these requirements shall be immediately eligible to represent the conference as the automatic qualifier.
Basically, if BYU joins, they're immediately eligible to win the WAC's AQ.
Now, if BYU doesn't join, the NCAA offers the WAC a temporary lifeline.
Grace period: A conference shall remain eligible for automatic qualification for two years following the date of withdrawal of the institution(s) that causes the conference's membership to fall below seven institutions, or below six members with continuity of membership, provided the conference maintains at least six Division I members.
Since the conference doesn't include any transitional Division I members, but is undergoing a membership change, the two exceptions to the rule, which I've not listed here, do not apply. Basically, if a conference changes membership, it has to follow the 2003 rules, not the 1999 ones (which would have allowed six-member conferences, if I'm not mistaken).
So, if Boise State, Fresno State, and Nevada all bolt at the end of the 2010-11 academic year, and BYU doesn't sign up (if it chooses football independence and a spot in the West Coast Conference, for example), the WAC will fall to six members. The conference will then have to sign up at least one more member before the beginning of the 2013-14 academic year (the end of the grace period). If it doesn't, the auto bid is gone.
Big Sky Conference, you're officially on notice.