With Utah State and San Jose State on their way to the Mountain West soon, the WAC, which is one of the oldest continuous athletic conferences in the nation, is on its last breath. I'm sad to see that. While Utah hasn't been a member of the WAC since the 1998-'99 season, and since has joined two conferences (the Mountain West and then the Pac-12), it was still the conference that housed most my memories as a kid growing up. Most deal with basketball, though some are of the football variety.
I became a Utah fan in the 1990s, at the height, really, of the conference. It had expanded, too much so, as we later found out, in 1996, and it ultimately declined from there, forcing Utah, BYU and a slew of other programs to bolt the conference and form their own. But for a period, between the early-90s and until the end, the conference was pretty excellent. There were rivalries, great basketball, powerhouse football programs, and a sense of remarkable history. This was, after all, the conference that gave us some great BYU teams, a Utah basketball championship run that, unfortunately, ended in heartbreak, and exceptional consistency from Air Force and Colorado State on the football field.
Who could forget the Wacky WAC of the 80s and 90s? Before Boise State and Thursday and Friday night ESPN games, there was Utah and Colorado State battling it out in an epic 45-31 showdown on national television. The WAC was home to such potent offenses as LaVell Edwards' open-air, pass-happy touchdown machine down in Provo, the hard as nails to defend wishbone offense of Air Force in Colorado Springs, and the Joe Tiller spread 'em out, basketball on grass offense in Laramie, Wyoming. If you liked points, if you liked high-octane, no-defense, slap ya mama craziness, in the 90s, the WAC was for you. It was an exciting, revolutionary conference and though it was not necessarily as prestigious as its bigger and better brothers, it still offered a great show.
Forgive me, I can't help it that a bit of nostalgia is consuming me right now. It'd be like returning to your old neighborhood and finding out it's been leveled for an expressway. A lot of memories. A lot of good times. Like Utah's first win in Provo in 24 years, their first conference championship in three decades, and their first-ever ten-win season.
And that's just football! The height of Utah basketball, two Final Fours, one national championship game, top-25 rankings, Sweet Sixteens, legendary coaches - they all happened in the WAC. Jack Gardner roamed the sidelines, as did Bill Foster and Jerry Pimm. Of course, the legend himself, Rick Majerus, was the most successful basketball coach in WAC history - guiding the Runnin' Utes to seven conference titles, including a perfect conference season in 1999.
So, the conference Utah helped form in the 1960s appears to be on the verge of collapse. I find that sad. I know, I shouldn't, and we've moved on to bigger and better things. But I've always been taught to never forget where you came from and for this program, and the beginnings of my fanhood, that's the WAC. If you will, please bear with me, my heart is in the coffin there with the WAC, and I must pause till it come back to me.
I'll leave you with one of my favorite WAC moments...
KEITH VAN HORN (via KSL5Sports)