“I used to say, and I guess I still say, that nothing surprises me,” Hurd said. “I’m not so sure I can say that anymore.”
The WAC, for instance, has more than 50 years of history — and what feels like as many members over the three-year span from 2011 to 2014. The longest-standing current members are Idaho and New Mexico State. They joined in 2005. And Idaho is leaving after next year.
How are fans supposed to invest time, money and emotion into a conference tournament that no longer includes mainstays such as Nevada and Boise State and next year is scheduled to include Grand Canyon University, Chicago State and the University of Missouri-Kansas City, among others?
“What I’ve found is that it’s only a minority of the fans, sometimes, that are tracking the conference realignment,” said Karl Benson, the WAC commissioner for 18 years until he left in 2012 to run the Sun Belt Conference. “Most fans to some extent, even when it’s over — even when a school leaves the conference — sometimes they have to be reminded.”
Benson spoke Monday morning from Hot Springs, Ark., where the Sun Belt’s men’s and women’s tournaments were to conclude later in the day. And he found himself in the position he has been in before: potentially handing conference championship trophies to schools that are departing the conference, because Middle Tennessee State and Florida International are on their way out.
“The student-athletes are the ones that deserve the postseason,” Benson said. “They had nothing to do with the conference changes, and more often than not, neither did the coaches. So I try to shake hands with both coaches before each game regardless of whether they’re staying or leaving.”
So predicting the results of the tournaments to follow is, in some cases, the easy part. Predicting what schools will participate in which conference tournaments in the years to come? That might prove the more daunting task.