HOUSTON, Texas (KTRE) - The worst-kept secret in college sports the past month was made official Thursday morning in Houston.
The Western Athletic Conference officially announced the addition of Stephen F. Austin, Sam Houston State, Lamar University and Abilene Christian University to the league. The move will take SFA away from the Southland Conference, ending a membership of 33 years.
The change of membership for the “Texas 4″ will take place on July 1 of this summer. That is a year earlier than what was first reported back in December when SFA president Scott Gordon entered negotiations with the WAC for a conference-change taking place in July 2022.
The WAC is currently home to home to California Baptist, Chicago State, Dixie State, Grand Canyon University, New Mexico State, Seattle University, Tarleton State, UT Rio Grande Valley and Utah Valley. Southern Utah will also join the league in 2022. Chicago State will exit the league after the 2021-2022 school year.
This move will also bring back WAC football. The league stopped sponsoring football after the 2012-13 season. The new WAC football league will be home to SFA, Sam Houston, Lamar, Abilene Christian, Tarleton State, Dixie State and later Southern Utah In 2022. Tarleton and Dixie are currently considered independents. The conference will play at the Football Championship Division, the same division of the Southland Conference. New Mexico State will not be in the league at first. The Aggies participate in the Football Bowl Subdivision.
According to the WAC press release The additions will create a 13-team conference that will be divided into two divisions for team sports other than football, men’s basketball and women’s basketball. One division will consist of the Texas-based institutions including current WAC members Tarleton State University and The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley. The other division will include Southern Utah along with Dixie State University, New Mexico State University, Grand Canyon University, California Baptist University, Seattle University and Utah Valley University.
“I cannot overstate my level of excitement in making this expansion announcement,” said Hurd, “The opportunity to bring five quality institutions into the conference, to significantly strengthen the WAC’s national basketball brand and other championship sport profiles, and to bring football back under the WAC umbrella is one that made sense.”
The Southland Conference will lose some of their top programs in multiple sports with the move and will look to replace them. The league has hired has engaged with Eastman & Beaudine, Inc. to look at new member opportunities for schools to fill the void.
“Throughout 2020, some Southland Conference member institutions have actively considered opportunities elsewhere, and that will lead to league realignment in the coming year. These members have long prospered in the Southland with competitive success, academic achievement, media growth and geographic proximity. We fully understand the value they bring to another association, and we wish them success and more of the accolades they realized during their long-standing membership here,” Southland Conference Commissioner Tom Burnett said.