THE FRONT ROW with Mark Nelke, July 4, 2013 - Coeur d'Alene Press: Sports

THE FRONT ROW with Mark Nelke, July 4, 2013

Idaho's new WAC foes a mystery

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Posted: Thursday, July 4, 2013 12:00 am

The first day of the new Western Athletic Conference wasn't ushered in with the same pomp and circumstance as, say, the new Atlantic Coast Conference, which welcomed in Syracuse, Pittsburgh and Notre Dame on Monday.

Also that day, the WAC brought in six new schools - and no way you'd guess all six by looking at their logos on the conference website.

I'll save you some time - Cal State Bakersfield, Chicago State, Grand Canyon University, Missouri-Kansas City, Texas-Pan American and Utah Valley University.

"Today is an important and exhilarating day for the WAC," Commissioner Jeff Hurd said in a news release. "We proudly welcome our six new members and look forward to the contributions each of them will bring to the conference."

OK, if you say so, Jeff.

WHAT ONLY two of the nine schools bring to the conference is a football program, which means the WAC no longer offers football. The two football-playing members, Idaho and New Mexico State, are playing football as independents this fall, and are scheduled to join the Sun Belt in football next fall - at which point there will be a quiz asking you to name the other schools in the Sun Belt.

That will leave Seattle U, which joined the WAC just last year, as the elder statesman of the conference.

That also explains why the Vandals announced recently they were hosting a media day for the football team on Aug. 23, eight days before their season opener at North Texas. That's because, as a football independent this year, they have no conference media day in which to participate.

SOME OF these new schools you may have heard of - like Cal State Bakersfield. But Chicago State? Not to be confused with Chicago-style pizza, which would still taste good on a hot day like we had earlier this week.

Grand Canyon? Isn't that the place the Griswolds stopped at briefly on the way to Wally World in "Vacation?" That would be cool if the Antelopes - yes, that's Grand Canyon's mascot - played their home games there.

Missouri-Kansas City? As Al McGwire used to say, watch out for those hyphenated schools.

Texas-Pan American? I thought they were already in the WAC, but I must have gotten them confused with Texas San Antonio or UT Arlington or Texas State, who were in the league last year before bailing.

It wasn't that long ago that Utah Valley (located in Orem, Utah) was a junior college, playing in the Scenic West Athletic Conference and sending its teams to Coeur d'Alene to take on North Idaho College. They were called Utah Valley State College when they were in the SWAC, then made the leap directly to NCAA Division I in 2003.

Before that, the school was called the Central Utah Vocational School, then the Utah Trade Technical Institute, then the Utah Technical College at Provo, then Utah Valley Community College before becoming UVSC in 1993.

There you have it. Nine schools in nine states, and good luck reciting all nine schools from memory without the use of Google.

OF COURSE, this is Idaho's last year in the WAC in all other sports besides football - the Vandals will move all of those sports into the Big Sky Conference in 2014, where some teams reside that you've actually heard of (Montana, Eastern Washington, Montana State, to name a few). So you wonder how much time the Vandals will spend getting to know their new conference mates this year anyway. By the time they and their fans get it all figured out, it'll be time to leave anyway.

Then again, if conference reshuffling continues, their paths may cross again someday.

Mark Nelke is sports editor of The Press. He can be reached at 664-8176, Ext. 2019, or via email at mnelke@cdapress.com. Follow him on Twitter at CdAPressSports.

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