College athletics as we know are changing, with the latest movement being the unofficial demise of the Pac-12 conference. Washington and Oregon have moved for better things in the Big Ten conference and now Utah, Arizona, and Arizona State have sought out refuge in the Big 12.
Conferences have moved away from regions and accessibility into money and power, which only brings in more money and power. Now, these initial moves have affected the highest level of Power 5 conferences currently, but what will realignment bring to the Western Athletic Conference (WAC) and even more specifically, UVU?
The real question is when did this start? In the summer of 2021, Texas and Oklahoma announced they would be joining the Southeastern Conference (SEC) for the 2024 athletics year. Shortly after they announced their move, the Big 12 announced its allegiance with four new members.
BYU, Cincinatti, University of Central Florida (UCF) and Houston all accepted invitations to be the newest members of the P5 conference starting in 2023. While most thought that that would be the last realignment, people were surely mistaken.
In July of 2022, University of Southern California (USC) and University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) announced they would be moving to the Big Ten. This sparked controversy as the Big Ten is primary an east coast conference featuring programs from Nebraska to New Jersey.
Shortly after this move, the Pac-12 was in search of a new TV deal to feature its programs on prime television slots to feature their games. The early rumor of the deal is that each conference member would receive somewhere in the range of $30 million a year.
This did not tread well with the existing members as they have shown themselves as one of the more prominent conferences in the country, ending the 2023 college football season with six nationally ranked teams.
Up to this point, there has still been no existing deal for the conference and that is just one reason the programs decided to seek new conferences.
In July 2023, Colorado announced they would return to their old stomping grounds and join the Big 12. This left the Pac-12 in jeopardy with just nine programs.
Following Colorado’s announcement, the Big 12 announced that they would be inviting three additional Pac-12 members in Utah, Arizona State and Arizona and completed their four-corner school poaching.
The same day, Washington and Oregon finalized their deal with the Big Ten, abruptly ending the Pac-12.
There have been rumors of the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) adding Stanford, Cal and current American Athletic Conference (AAC) member Southern Methodist University (SMU) to their conference but nothing official as of now.
But is there a universe where realignment does not affect UVU and the WAC? It already affected them when it comes to scheduling, cross-town rival BYU is now in a conference on their own in the Big 12. This limits the number of games they can schedule out of conference games like they have with UVU already.
After the release of the non-conference basketball schedule, the two will not meet in men’s basketball this year, with the women’s schedule not yet released.
This is not surprising as BYU is joining one of, if not the best basketball conferences in the country and needs to schedule close to guaranteed wins. While BYU has historically beat Utah Valley, UVU has beaten BYU two years in a row including an upset win against the undefeated No. 12 Cougars in 2021.
While Utah Valley does not have a football program, there has already been immediate impact that has affected the conference last year when the conference added five new members officially in July of 2022.
The WAC welcomed: Abilene Christian University, Lamar University, Sam Houston State University, Stephen F. Austin University and Southern Utah University with the expectation to grow further in the future.
Although there are extreme differences between FBS level play and FCS level play, the WAC shares similar traits with the Pac-12 conference. Both conferences are extremely tight regionally, history in all sports but not dominant as of late at their level and likely to be shifted around.
There is a non-zero chance that FCS powerhouses North Dakota State and South Dakota State leave the FCS to enter FBS play and join the Mountain West conference or even the WAC. The Missouri Valley conference could begin poaching programs from the WAC.
“There is still a lot of movement to take place. We are thrilled with the WAC and the WAC has done well with two women’s soccer teams in the NCAA tournament,” women’s soccer head coach Chris Lemay said. “With Seattle U and GCU scheduling the way that they are our overall conference RPI made a jump. But who knows,
; if conferences continue to come together who knows where we will be even.”
What if the smaller FBS conference begins to lose programs and suddenly seeks out Utah Tech? The Trailblazers have a growing football program in a prime location both market and recruiting wise.
While there is a lot to be excited about, some student-athletes are not too fond of what is happening in the collegiate world. Sports like softball, baseball, and volleyball that usually are played across a few days now must travel across the country and spend additional time away from school.
USC and UCLA are in California but having to travel as far as New Jersey will not only cost more money than heading to somewhere like Utah, but also a toll on the students who are supposed to also focus on academics.
“I do not think it is necessary. I thought the conferences were cool, especially in the Big 10 because I am from the mid-west and my sister plays in the Big 10,” w
Women’s soccer student-athlete Faith Webber said. “Cross-country travel seems odd to me. Traveling is hard regardless of if you are traveling an hour on a bus or six hours across the country. People are going to help you no matter what, but I do not love it.”
Webber also said she believes it is catered to the male-dominated sports and feels like that is a big reason there was so much change.
“When you think about a program like Michigan who has a woman’s rowing team, a lot of those girls are there to be athletes but also get a good education. Certain programs do not have as much funding as USC and UCLA football,” Webber stated. “Because they will have to pay so much for travel there will be less gear, less attention and hurt the less-popular sports more than they anticipate.”
Despite there still being a lot to happen in the coming months; the new athletics year is here, and no moves will be made official until the July 1st athletic year. Utah Valley enters its 11th year in the conference and looks to make more noise than ever.