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Sacramento State views WAC as good fit
Sacramento State is no Big Sky Conference power. Terry Wanless, the school’s athletic director, is the first to admit it.
But it’s for that very reason that he believes that the idea of Sacramento State moving to the Western Athletic Conference (WAC) at this juncture might help his athletic program experience a level of success it has not yet attained in the Big Sky.
“We haven’t had the historic success other Big Sky schools have had,” Wanless said. “We’re still climbing the ladder. The WAC makes that ladder a little taller, but it also makes it more exciting.”
Idaho athletic director Rob Spear, whose program made a similar jump to the FBS in 1996, agreed with that sentiment.
“If you make the jump, you can say, ‘We’re playing in this league, we need to do everything we can to ease the transition,’” he said. “Sometimes you can get your donors behind that.”
The Hornets would have a fair amount of facility improvements to make, but the program has already begun the process, having just finished a new football facility two years ago.
“It houses our football coaching staff, our football team and our track and field team,” Wanless said. “It also has a new weight room, a new equipment room and a new sports medicine room. So that part of the transition is complete”
One part of the transition that is still in works is a complete reconstruction the Hornets football stadium and basketball arena. But at the very least, Wanless said, Hornet Stadium’s current capacity of 22,000 is comparable to teams in a conference like the WAC.
And Wanless believes the stadium could move closer to selling out consistently if the Hornets started playing regional opponents like Fresno State, San Jose State and Nevada - all of which are members of the WAC and are located in a reasonable driving distance of the Sacramento State campus - instead of opponents like Eastern Washington, Weber State and Northern Arizona - all of which are a flight and a bus ride away.
“Not only could we create excitement amongst our fans about matchups like the Fresnos the San Joses and the Nevadas, but fans of those schools would also be able to drive in and attend those contests,” Wanless said. “That could possibly give us a huge return investment on that decision (to move up).”
But what would that decision cost? Wanless said that Sacrmaneto State is currently operating on a $15 million annual budget, which is approximately $2 million more than the budgets at Montana State and Montana, according to MSU athletic director Peter fields and UM athletic director Jim O’Day.
Wanless believes a move to the WAC would require that Sacramento State add $5 million to its annual operating budget. When asked if he thought his school could support such a budget increase, he answered simply.
“I think we could,” he said. “I’m very comfortable in thinking that we could make that happen.”
By Will Holden