Realignment Right for Mountain West Conference, Sun Belt and Conference USA?
As college football fans, we are divided.
Some of us find excitement in all the reconfiguring of conferences and feel the change of venue for some teams will make for a more interesting football season.
Others will miss the traditional rivalries that are disappearing for at least the near future.
Regardless of which side of the aisle you sit, the change is real, and there is a feeling in the air that we are far from seeing the end of realignment.
The major players in the shuffling of conference arsenals have been the BCS leagues. All six automatic qualifiers have seen some form of change in their lineup.
And really, there isn’t much more to be said in reference to those leagues that hasn't already been said, aside from continued speculation about expansion.
What I have been curious about, however, has been the non-automatic qualifying conferences.
The Mountain West Conference (MWC), the Western Athletic Conference (WAC) and Conference USA (CUSA) were all pretty much decimated by other conferences.
Where do they turn after losing so many of their top programs?
That is what I am here to address.
These leagues will never be direct competition with the BCS leagues. They field quality teams and place a few teams here-and-there in the Top 25 rankings, but they will always be the second tier to the “Big Leagues.”
Now before I receive hate mail from East Carolina fans, being second tier is not intended to be an insult.
For the teams in those leagues, the point of the games really is about the play on the field. The teams and fans know that it is unrealistic to dream about national titles, so their games, to a large degree, are more “pure” in essence.
The best option for the remaining conferences is to focus on becoming, or in some cases, remaining a more regional amalgamation, as opposed to attempting the cross-continent conglomeration the Big East has created.
By remaining regional, travel expenses will be reduced, which helps the schools compete better against more national powers. It also develops better rivalries and increases attendance.
So with that said, let us get down to the point of what I am talking about.
First, we shall bid a fond adieu to the Western Athletic Conference, at least as far as football is concerned. Oh WAC, you made a good run of things and you produced some great high-scoring games in the old days.
But, your time has come and gone, and it would be the best for all concerned if you devoted your efforts to basketball. Thanks for playing.
Which brings us to the MWC.
After the losses of Utah, BYU, TCU and San Diego State, they are in dire need of restocking. If losing all those teams wasn't bad enough, the league announced this past week that they are shutting down their cable network.
Things looked so bad that the conference decided to partner with Conference USA for pure survival purposes.
Still, rumors swirled that the MWC was on the verge of adding Utah State and San Jose State. And one cannot forget about the additions this fall of Fresno State, Nevada and Hawaii.
The Mountain West may be down, but it is far from out.
And looking at what the MWC has and then adding other regional teams, the conference could easily find its way to 12 full-time members and a strong alliance among member teams.
An updated Mountain West Conference would look something like this:
Note: Teams with an (*) in front of their name are not a current conference member but have been proposed.
The Mountain West Conference
*Idaho (From the WAC)
*New Mexico State (From the WAC)
*San Jose State (From the WAC)
*Utah State (From the WAC)
Since Conference USA is based in Texas, they should focus on teams from the region to rebuild their coffers. Allowing some more eastern-based teams to leave for other options without penalty would serve CUSA well.
A newer version of Conference CUSA could look something like this:
*Arkansas State (From the Sun Belt)
*North Texas (From the Sun Belt)
*UL-Lafayette (From the Sun Belt)
*UL-Monroe (From the Sun Belt)
*Louisiana Tech (From the WAC)
*Texas State (From the WAC)
*UT-San Antonio (From the WAC)
As for the Sun Belt Conference, they would actually come out stronger than before the conference shuffling, and their lineup would be enhanced by the additions of some former CUSA teams.
South Alabama is set to join the football conference in 2012, as they move up from FCS/1AA football.
Other additions that are former FCS programs or that have made public proclamations of their desire to move up to FBS/1A football are Massachusetts (set to join the MAC in 2012) and Appalachian State (looking for a conference to join so they can move up from FCS).
With Navy joining the Big East and Air Force choosing to remain in the MWC, Army could probably be persuaded to join a more manageable lineup of teams like one would see in the new Sun Belt.
The newly configured Sun Belt Conference might look something like this:
Sun Belt Conference
Middle Tennessee State
*Army (From Independent Status)
*Appalachian State (From FCS)
*Alabama-Birmingham (From CUSA)
*East Carolina (From CUSA)
*Marshall (From CUSA)
*UMass (From the MAC)
Even after losing Temple to the Big East and UMass to the Sun Belt, the Mid-American Conference would have 12 committed members. That provides for six BCS conferences and four 12-team regional non-automatic qualifying conferences.
More importantly, it creates stability where there has been very little over the last few years. And for college football fans, having an attractive lineup of games is what we all really want in the first place.
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