The Rise and Fall of the Great West Conference

Today, Chicago State announced its move to the in-constant-state-of-flux Western Athletics Conference. Cal-State Bakersfield, Utah Valley, Grand Canyon University, and UTPA are also joining in 2013 when Louisiana Tech, UT-San Antonio, San Jose State, Utah State, Texas State, Texas-Arlington and Denver (oi!) depart.

The WAC, since it's been around since 1962 has been actively grabbing teams (even for-profit ones) that wouldn't mind being in a league with an automatic NCAA tournament bid. Chicago State leaves behind a Great West Conference that now appears to be in its final moments. You might say that the GWC was doomed from the start.

It all started in 2004 when a loose collection of six Division I-AA football programs came together to form a football-only league with teams from the Dakotas, Colorado and westward. By the spring of 2007, three of those schools had either already left or were in the process of transitioning to a new conference. With a pair of teams in North Dakota and South Dakota back in the fold by August 2007, the GWC found a way to expand further: add all sports.

So, in 2008 a strange array of five geographically dissimilar and young athletics programs from across the country (Chicago State, Utah Valley, New Jersey Institute of Technology, Houston Baptist and Texas-Pan American) signed on despite the fact that none of them would initially be eligible for postseason play as members of the bizarre new league. Seattle too briefly considered joining the party, but instead committed to the WAC.

And then things got weird.

Because so many of its teams were 1) New to D-I play, 2) Couldn't promise recruits much with no hopes for postseason play and 3) Were spending a lot of money to travel great lengths for conference games, they didn't perform well.

Over the course of the three full seasons of college basketball in the Great West, the conference has gone 43-238 (0.153) against non-conference opponents (not including independents).

The GWC received an automatic bid to the College Insider Tournament (CIT) in 2009, but that didn't help things much, and expansion problems were exacerbated in 2011 when the last of the remaining football programs left the GWC for greener pastures.

Teams started abandoning the GWC soon after. Houston Baptist left for the Southland Conference starting in 2013-2014, and Utah Valley and UTPA both accepted invitations to join the WAC. Now that Chicago State has also accepted a WAC invitation, only NJIT remains.

Assuming they won't man a one-team conference, where does NJIT, a team off to a greatly improved 4-4 start, best fit?

John Templon thinks the America East conference, but others have nominated the Northeast Conference, which just lost Monmouth and Quinnipiac to the Mid-Atlantic Athletics Conference.