This afternoon, the beleaguered Western Athletic Conference, which looked to be down to four members for 2013-14 -- or three, if Idaho goes ahead with a return to the Big Sky -- received a needed boost for the future. Independent Cal State Bakersfield and the Great West's Utah Valley are now set to join for next season, which would give the league six members, provided the Vandals stick around.
That number would be enough to keep the conference in Division I, thanks to NCAA bylaw 126.96.36.199. However, bylaws 188.8.131.52 and 184.108.40.206.1, just below in the manual. indicate that a half-dozen is not enough for men's basketball; the WAC would need one more to retain its auto bid. When the conference moves to six (or five, depending on what Idaho does) members in 2013-14, it will enter a two-year grace period. During this time, the WAC would hang on to its bid while needing to pick up another member (two if Idaho goes) to keep it permanently -- or at least until the next round of realignment comes around.
Things aren't quite so rosy for the conference (and I'm tempted to put that word in quotation marks) Utah Valley is leaving, the Great West. Thanks to those pesky NCAA bylaws, the league wasn't going to earn an automatic bid to the Tournament until 2020 at the earliest. Given that lengthy wait, it's not surprising the conference's members have had at least one eye (if not both) on moving to a grouping with a guaranteed place at the March Madness table. South Dakota was the first to go, heading to the Summit League for 2011-12. Neighbors North Dakota jumped to the Big Sky a year later, after their nickname issue was resolved. Houston Baptist, like Utah Valley, will be on the way out after this season, with the Huskies destined for the growing Southland Conference.
That leaves the 2013-14 Great West, boasting a far-flung membership of Chicago State, NJIT, and Texas-Pan American, looking even more like a poor attempt at a scheduling alliance than an actual conference. And not just basketball will be affected by these moves, as affiliate members in baseball (North Dakota, Northern Colorado, and NYIT) and women's soccer (Delaware State, Howard, and South Carolina State) will have to scramble to find new homes if the conference meets a (likely) demise.
According to the Las Cruces Sun-News, the WAC might still invite Chicago State and UTPA, simultaneously finishing off the Great West and ending its search for a seventh (and eighth) member. Naturally, the Cougars and Broncs would probably rather join conferences that make more geographic sense. However, considering the Southland rejected UTPA earlier this year and Chicago State was forced out of the Summit League, the two schools may not have a choice.
With Cal State Bakersfield and New Orleans finding conference homes and its conference disintegrating, NJIT might soon become the nation's lone independent in basketball. Yet, with another wave of realignment possible among East Coast mid-majors, thanks to the Colonial Athletic Association's need to find at least one more member, and potentially more, the Highlanders may soon find a permanent home ... one owning that coveted automatic bid.
I've updated the Conference Changes for 2013-14 page with these moves.