First, a little history. The Western Athletic Conference was established in 1962. BYU’s AD, Eddie Kimball was the man behind it’s formation. The first six members were BYU, Utah, Wyoming, UNM, AZ, and AZ State. In 1967, Texas Western(UTEP) coming off of its winning the National Basketball Championship, and Colorado State joined, bringing the number of schools to eight. In 1978, AZ and AZ State left, to join the Pac 8, and brought the Pac 8 to 10 members, thus it became the Pac 10. In 1979, San Diego State, and Hawaii joined the WAC, bringing its membership back up to 8. The next year, the Air Force Academy joined the WAC, and the membership grew to 9. The conference remained this way for nearly fifteen years. In 1992 Fresno State joined the conference, bring its membership to ten. Then, in 1996 the first “mega conference” came into being, when the WAC added Rice, TCU, SMU, San Jose State, UNLV, and Tulsa.
In 1999, five members, AFA, BYU, Utah, Colorado State, and Wyoming, feeling that athletic and academic excellence had been compromised by the expansion of 1996, and along with those concerns and concerns about travel costs, they met secretly and formed their new conference, the Mountain West Conference. Those five included UNLV, San Diego State, and UNM in the newly formed conference.
Left in the WAC were UTEP, member since 1967, and Hawaii member since 1979. It has always been an angry topic of discussion in El Paso, as to the reasons why UTEP was abandoned, and the way it was done (behind UTEP’s back). So I decided to look at their stated reasons for leaving, and their choices of whom to include. I looked at wins and losses, attendance, facilities, and other factors. The numbers I used were not what I would have liked to use, as they weren’t readily available from many of the school’s websites. Even so, I think the raise some questions.
First, let’s look at the reason given that academic excellence was being compromised by the 16 members of the WAC, and how they compared to the 8 members that formed the MWC. Here is who were invited to join the MWC, and here are the schools who were left out.
Some how, some way, that academic excellence issue looks a little weak to me. I mean no offense, but the top 5 on the MWC list chose the other three, and left three of the eight on the WAC list? So, I figure academic excellence wasn’t really a top priority for them. How does UTEP fit in, academically? UTEP has a unique mission, and that is tied to it’s location on the US/Meico border. In order to best serve the community, it has an open enrollment policy. Because of this, graduation rates suffer. It is the largest university in the U.S. with a majority Mexican-American student population (about 75%). It is the only such university to be classified RU/H (“Research Universities (high research activity)”) by the Carnegie Foundation. The university ranked, in 2006, second in federal research spending among UT System academic institutions. The National Science Foundation has designated UTEP as a Model Institution for Excellence, one of only six in the country. UTEP is one of only 11 universities nationwide to receive a $5 million Teachers for a New Era (TNE) research grant from the Carnegie Corporation. Hispanic Business magazine has twice ranked UTEP as the number one graduate engineering school for hispanics. The National Action Council for Minorities in Engineering has called (UTEP) “a model for other engineering institutions who say that today’s minority young people from low-income families can’t succeed in a rigorous math- or science-based discipline.” So, although the open enrollment policy hurts graduation rates, for many for whom this is their only opportunity to attend college, it does an excellent job. So, take a look at the chart and see if there is compelling evidence that academic excellence was the(a) factor.
So maybe it was athletic excellence that was more what it was about. I’m just going to ask you if you feel like San Diego State, UNM, and UNLV were better football teams than Tulsa, TCU, or Hawaii? From 1980-1997, UNM was 77-141 (35.3%), UNLV was 82-125 (39.6%), and San Diego St. was 99-110 (47.3%), in football. Tulsa, from 1977-1999 went 127-131 (49%), TCU was 86-151 (36%) from 1977-1997, and Hawaii was 109-110 (50%) from 1980-1998. Now, it is common knowledge around these parts that UTEP was not good at football during that period. They had a 55-162 (25%) record for the period of 1980-1998.
Let’s look at facilities, and attendance. Here, it was difficult to get figures from before 2000, but I think they are still somewhat representative of fan support for the programs I will list.
|Wyoming averaged about 18,000/game from 2000-2008
AFA averaged about 39,000/game from 2002-2008
San Diego St. averaged about 30,000/game
Co St. about 24, 000
UNLV about 23,000
UNM about 33,000
UTEP about 35,000Facilities;
Wyoming FB Stadium=30,500 BB arena =15,000
AFA ” =46.7 ” Unk.
SD St. “ =71,000 “ 12,400
Co St. ” =39,100(?) “ 11,600(?)
UNLV ” =36,800 “ 18,500
UNM “ =39,200 “ 18,000(SRO)
UTEP ” =52,000 “ 12,200
When the WAC broke up and the MWC was formed, the amount of television coverage for almost all but the top ten teams in the country was very limited. Bowl games did allow some exposure for some other teams as ESPN came on the scene. So, I don’t think that could have been too much of a factor.
The five who engineered the break sited travel expensed as a factor. Let me give you some mileage, and we will see how well that holds up.
|City to City miles
Laramie, WY -> El Paso, TX= 856
“ San Diego, CA= 1132
“ LV, NV= 807
Provo, UT -> LV, NV= 381
“ SD, CA= 707
“ EP, TX= 820
Ft. Collins,CO EP, TX= 775
SD, CA= 1138
LV, NV= 813
Alb. NM EP, TX= 266
LV, NV= 574
SD, CA= 765
Travel expenses? I don’t think UTEP was the problem, there.
Let me give you two more possible factors that they didn’t mention. From 1980-1998 UTEP basketball teams won 383 games, and lost 194. The Miners earned the conference title outright 3 times in that period, and tied for it 3 more times. Let me remind you that the Don Haskins coached basketball team won the National Championship in 1966 starting an all African American team. UTEP’s student population is 75% Hispanic. The Mormon Church prohibited individuals of African descent from joining the Church’s lay priesthood until 1978. The Mormon Church had a long history of discrimination against people of “color”. I am not claiming that UTEP was left behind because of this, but I am saying it deserves some thought that it may have played a role. Perhaps more importantly, will it play any role in the conference realignment taking place, right now?