The WAC said Thursday it was adding the University of Texas-San Antonio and Texas State to a football lineup that will lose the BCS-busting Broncos next year and key members Fresno State and Nevada Wolf Pack in 2012.
The Texas schools and the University of Denver, which doesn't have football, will join the WAC in 2012. The current expansion plan gives the WAC eight football members.
"It won't take long for these two football teams to be playing in bowl games," WAC commissioner Karl Benson predicted. "And could one of these football programs be the next Boise State? Absolutely."
Benson said he thought he would be announcing a nine-team football lineup with Montana, but was told a few hours earlier that the Grizzlies were staying in the lower-tier Football Championship Subdivision and the Big Sky Conference it has dominated at times over the years. Montana President Royce Engstrom said the FCS, in which playoffs determine the champion, "provides our student-athletes and fans with a great experience."
The Montana decision puts Benson back in the search mode for a ninth team. But that setback pales compared with the loss of Boise State, followed by Fresno State and Nevada. All three strong football programs are headed to the Mountain West Conference, which is losing Utah and BYU after this school year.
The addition of UTSA and Texas State will put the WAC back in Texas for the first time since 2005, when the departure of UTEP, SMU and Rice ended a 38-year run of at least one school from the Lone Star State in the league.
"I think the remaining members of the WAC looked at the state of Texas and said, 'That's a recruiting base for all of us. It doesn't hurt us to go there and play and be involved with those teams," said Texas State athletic director Larry Teis. "I think the state of Texas had some lure to the overall decision."
UTSA is starting a football program that will begin play next year under former Miami Hurricanes coach Larry Coker, who won the 2001 BCS national championship.
The Roadrunners compete in the Southland Conference in nine other sports, including men's and women's basketball.
"This is yet another historic day for UTSA," athletic director Lynn Hickey said. "We have been working extremely hard for a very long time to reach our goal of joining an FBS conference."
Texas State started playing football in 1904 and won consecutive Division II national championships in 1981-82. The Bobcats made the move to FCS two years later. While they are 1-4 in the Southland this year, they've reached the FCS playoffs twice since 2005. An expansion plan will push the stadium capacity to nearly 30,000.
Denver needed a conference closer to home after spending 11 years in the Sun Belt, said Peg Bradley-Doppes, the vice chancellor for athletics. Benson said Denver fits the profile for the WAC through its potential in basketball.
"We have worked diligently trying to find a home that makes more sense so that our fans, our alumni, our university can know the schools and embrace the schools," Bradley-Doppes said.
Hawaii has been considering becoming an independent in football.