After seeing team after team abandon ship, the Western Athletic Conference appears to be scrambling to stay afloat. By the end of next season the WAC will have lost Boise State, Nevada, Fresno State, and Hawaii to the Mountain West Conference. In an attempt to counter these losses the WAC has announced the additions of Texas State, University of Texas-San Antonio, Denver, and Seattle. It appears that the WAC isn’t done adding teams either, as there are now rumblings that University of Texas-Arlington has also accepted an invite to the WAC.
What does this mean for Utah State Basketball? Well, their future in the WAC does not look good. Especially considering the affects that this will have on Utah State’s RPI.
The RPI is a tool used to measure a team’s relative strength in comparison to the rest of the teams in the nation. It is instrumental in gaining admission to the NCAA Tournament at the end of each year. The Aggies have consistently been in the RPI top-100 over the past several years, most of the time falling in the top-50. In fact, they have an average RPI of 38 over the past five years, far and away the best rating in the WAC:
While the past couple of years have seen a down-tick in WAC strength, overall the WAC has been able to produce multiple RPI top-100 teams each season. This has usually provided the Aggies with multiple top-100 opponents and chances at top-100 victories come NCAA Tournament time.
Now, let’s take a closer look at what will happen over the next two years as current WAC members leave and new WAC members arrive. I’ve taken the 5-year RPI average of departing teams versus the announced arrivals. (Source: StatSheet.com)
The departing squads have averaged an RPI of 152 over the past five years. Each team has also been in the RPI top-100 at least once over the same time period.
The arriving squads have averaged an RPI of 239 over the past 5 years (Seattle has only been D1 for 2 years). None of them entered into the top 100, with UT-Arlington coming the closest in 2007-08 at RPI 147.
This turns into a lose-lose situation for the Aggies. They will now be looking at up to 10 games per season against sub-200 RPI teams. If you win those games your RPI drops and you pick up a “bad win” in the eyes of the NCAA Committee. If you lose those games your RPI drops even more and you pick up a dreaded “bad loss”, a serious threat to at-large berth chances.
Will these new WAC members be able to step up their game and provide a meaningful addition to the WAC? If history is any indication, the answer is no. It’s a good thing that Stew has successfully scheduled some BCS teams over the next few years. His team’s NCAA Tournament Resume will surely need the boost.