UTRGV to leave WAC for Southland Conference in July

Reading Time: 2 minutes UTRGV Athletics announced they would be leaving the WAC, pending a $2 million buyout fee, to joing the Southland Confernece in July.

Reading Time: 2 minutes

UT Rio Grande Valley (UTRGV) told Western Athletic Conference (WAC) officials on March 20 that the program would be leaving the WAC for the Southland Conference starting of the 2024-2025 academic year according to Pete Thamel of ESPN.  

This is a surprising move, but probably a smart one for UTRGV, who plays in Edinburgh, Texas—almost 480 miles to the nearest WAC opponent, Stephen F. Austin in Nacogdoches, Texas. This also allows the Vaqueros to compete in their level of competition in the Southland conference where rivalries have already been established. 

The Vaqueros will have to pay an estimated $2 million buyout fee to the WAC for terminating their contract early, which is not an easy thing to do given the small stature that UTRGV has in Athletics. 

UTRGV announced in 2022 that the school would be home to the newest FCS team that will kick off in 2025, originally as a member of the WAC.  

The Southland Conference was home to current WAC members Abilene Christan and Stephen F. Austin and former WAC participant Sam Houston State, now in Conference USA. 

UTRGV Men’s and Women’s hoops both finished last in the WAC standings this year and the Men have not finished outside of the bottom three since 2019-2020, but UTRGV has had a solid baseball program for many years.  

What does this mean for the conference and its current participants? It probably means a lot. 

“This decision speaks in large part to the growth and overall strength of our conference has built in recent years. The WAC has taken many steps in its recent history to raise the profile of the league nationally, and our presidents and athletic directors remain committed to that upward trajectory,” WAC commissioner Brian Thornton said in a press release. 

“The WAC will not waver from our mission of being competitive at the highest level while providing quality resources and experiences for all WAC student-athletes. We acknowledge UT Rio Grande Valley’s contributions to the WAC in helping grow the conference over the past decade.” 

In their statement to ESPN, UTRGV said that there was “nothing definitive to announce at this time. As you know this is a dynamic time in college athletics with exciting opportunities for our university.” UTRGV also announced they would be naming its new football stadium after Robert and Janet Vackar thanks to a $20 million gift that was announced on March 21. 

@WACHoopsNation on X—who has provided coverage on WAC Sports for over five years—suggested that it is possible that SFA and ACU could both move back to the Southland Conference as both teams have football programs and are relative in location to the Southland Conference opponents. WACHoopsNation also suggested that it is possible for Tarleton State to follow them in 2025. 

Nobody really knows what the WAC will do. Whether they wait and see what happens with current members of the conference, potentially seek into the Big Sky conference again, or just stick around and do what they have been doing, conference realignment is not just for the big conferences like the SEC and Big 12; it affects every conference in the NCAA. 

*This article will be updated when further information is released*