The ASUN and the WAC continue to seek forming a single-sport FCS football conference ahead of the 2023 season.
The two formed new FCS football-playing conferences in January of 2021. They combined in the fall of 2021 in their first seasons to earn instant auto-bid status into the FCS playoffs, calling it the AQ7. It was expected to be a one-year partnership before they split and had their own AQs in 2022. But due to realignment and losing members, the joint league returned in 2022 for one auto-bid.
Now, the ASUN-WAC is trying to form a legit football-only league, similar to the Missouri Valley Football Conference.
Membership in 2023 includes ASUN members Austin Peay, Central Arkansas, Eastern Kentucky, and North Alabama; and WAC members Abilene Christian, Southern Utah, Stephen F. Austin, Tarleton State, and Utah Tech. The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley is expected to join in 2025 during its first season as a football program.
“We continue to go through that process,” Eastern Kentucky director of athletics Matt Roan said on the FCS Football Talk podcast last week. “There are several different ways that we’re looking to establish what we want to establish. And that is this notion of a single-sport football conference where we get to continue to enjoy the benefits of the ASUN for all sports except for football. … And they get to do the same thing on the WAC side. But really trying to make football work for both sides. The establishment of a new single-sport football conference is something that we continue to pursue through the proper channels. Certainly understanding that there are restraints on that. Continue to try and overcome those but knowing that we do have other opportunities that are available to us to ultimately be where we want to be and that’s to be playing football together.”
The restraint mentioned above is a current moratorium in NCAA Division I on single-sport conferences. If ending that moratorium isn’t approved, the ASUN-WAC could always form the same type of partnership it has had the last two seasons to ensure an auto-bid into the FCS playoffs.
But the ASUN-WAC has been assertive in getting this single-sport football conference across the finish line, announcing in January that its football partnership has adopted a basic governance structure and naming Oliver Luck as Executive Director.
Aspirations Beyond FCS?
In December, ESPN published a story stating teams in the ASUN-WAC have the intention to become the 11th FBS conference.
It was met with a combination of shock and skepticism in the FCS community. MVFC commissioner Patty Viverito weighed in a month later on the podcast and called it absurd, but added that the ASUN-WAC’s proposed path of going FBS has been walked back since the ESPN story was published.
Roan was asked on the podcast last week whether going FBS was still the goal for the ASUN-WAC.
“Long term, we continue to try and weigh all options out there,” Roan said. “We like this collection of schools. We know that to keep this collection of schools that might have certain goals and objectives and great visions between those presidents and those CEOs, to stick together we do believe that there has to be an appetite to try and play football at the highest level possible. And that highest level in this transformation era, that can look different as well. I think right now, our primary focus is to become a single-sport FCS conference. We think with the quality of schools that we have, that we will be among the best FCS conferences in America, which is something we stated from Day 1 when the ASUN wanted to start football on its own and the WAC wanted to start football on its own. I think both leagues felt like we can be the best, and combining forces we think we can be the best FCS conference in America. And from there, we’re excited about what the possibilities can be.”
Roan was also asked if there is a pathway to becoming an FBS conference.
“I can’t sit here and say it’s been done recently,” he said. “You can look back at the WAC 20-25 years ago when it was at 16. And from that, the Mountain West was formed. You can look at the old Big East, and from that the American was formed. So those are two examples. There have been examples of independent institutions kind of getting away, Liberty for example, of the old rule used to be you couldn’t go FBS unless you had a conference invite. And Liberty created an exception and a pathway. Right now, we’re still very much in the conversation phase of just kind of sharing ‘hey, this is something we’re interested in doing.’ And I know [WAC Commissioner] Brian Thornton, [ASUN Commissioner] Ted Gumbart, and [ASUN-WAC Executive Director] Oliver Luck are representing those interests well and having those conversations. That’s really all I know at this point and we’ll see where things go.”
“I know for us, what we’re trying to do is ‘hey, this is a transformative era. Let’s position ourselves to compete at the highest level possible. Let’s be aspirational together,’” Roan added.
The podcast with Roan can be heard below, which also includes a conversation about increasing the number of FCS playoff seeds.