New Mexico State and the University of Idaho Become Casualties, but of What?

Alex StrelnikovCorrespondent IIJuly 12, 2012

LOS ANGELES, CA - SEPTEMBER 01: Nathan Enderle #10 of the University of Idaho Vandals hands off the ball during the game against the USC Trojans at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on September 1, 2007 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images)
Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images

With the decline of the WAC, New Mexico State and University of Idaho have suddenly become teams without a conference.

With all the thrashing around, people are looking for someone to blame. Was it conference mismanagement? Is there enough blame to go around and lay at the front door of the BCS? How about ESPN and the networks?  

Is there enough blame for the schools to look at themselves? Did they adjust to market conditions within education and attract students so that they could support a viable athletic program?

How is it for-profit schools like Phoenix University have grown and thrived, and on-line schools have succeeded, but some of the brick-and-mortar schools have struggled?  

Why are some brick-and-mortar schools upgrading their athletic programs while others are contemplating eliminating athletics? 

All business decisions eventually come down to management. The management of New Mexico State and University of Idaho has been as faulty as any company in their state that has gone bankrupt.

The decline of the WAC is a manifestation of the failure administrations to understand the market forces in which they operate. Some schools were able to adjust and jump to another conference and temporarily survive. However, with the pressure on taxes, revenues and state infrastructures, survival may be just a mirage. 

While there are those who struggle to think of what to do for a conference alignment for New Mexico State and the University of Idaho I think the solution is simple. 

Why isn’t New Mexico State moving into the Mountain West? It has a stadium that is comparable to most of the little schools in the Mountain West, and the surrounding population is not too far off. Surely the Las Cruces market is no worse than Laramie.

Truth be told, Wyoming should probably be in the Big Sky conference. Only pride keeps it in the MWC and in hard revenue times for states, that is an expensive habit. 

Are both New Mexico State and Idaho shooting up the same white powder? 

An alternative for NMS might be to try to join Conference USA and join UTEP, UT San Antonio, North Texas, Rice and Tulsa regionally. In the long term the mid-major schools of the area my finally recognize they need their own conference.  

If Texas State were to join them there would be a very solid seven team division that would make a great addition to any conference. In the coming realignment world yet to be played out, this might also be a good home for New Mexico. By adding New Mexico you could have the Rio Grand Athletic Conference with eight teams.  

The problem is that teams, schools, their administrations and eventually the legislatures that support them, are living in an environment that doesn’t support the realities of the present day. Any of those teams that expect to find a place in the next century in the Four Team Playoff Football Championship game are smoking dope and shooting up at the same time.

Instead of trying to break into that final four, why aren’t they trying to be financially solvent?  

What we may see in the next five years is a true alignment of the haves and the have-nots. Conference USA, Sun Belt, WAC and MAC will certainly be the first tier have-nots and the WAC will probably disappear altogether. The Mountain West will eventually join the have-nots simply because the stadiums are not large enough to bring in ticket sales, and the TV markets are not large enough to supply revenue to cover expenses of operating a major college football program.  

That is the crux of the issue. Do you have enough fans who will pay for tickets, watch TV and buy products advertised to warrant putting your team on TV and paying your school to be there? The answer for New Mexico State, Idaho and many others, is no.  

Now, let us ask, does New Mexico State and Idaho expect Alabama, Auburn, Miami, Oklahoma and Texas to subsidize their football program when they themselves did not change their educational institutions, tax programs, pricing of tuition, etc., to attract enough students to be a viable athletic program?  

In the cold hard world of economics it boils down to the reality that you have to stand on your own. Socialism doesn’t work. Not at the government level, not at the educational level.

USC, UCLA, Stanford and others can not be expected to pick up the costs of running an athletic program for these small and inefficient schools whose eyes have been bigger than their wallets.  

Let’s face it, the Four Team playoff will be basically for the Pac-12, Big 10, SEC and Big 12. A team will be in one of those conferences, or out. Only the ACC has to be dealt with, along with BYU and Notre Dame.

My bet is both of those schools will hold out as long as possible and then find a home in the Big 12 and Big 10 respectively. The ACC will be looted and there will be four conferences with 16 teams representing the 64 financially viable football schools. This will be Division 1. Division II will be the remnants of the current FBS. 

The 64 non-financially viable schools as a division II will get their own playoff champion. My prediction is a system of conferences with at least eight teams each will send their conference champion to a playoff. Perhaps they will only play 10 regular season games, with a playoff system that could conclude by the holiday bowl season.  

It may be hard to swallow, but Idaho doesn’t have the population to support two major schools any more than does Wyoming, North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana, Alaska, Minnesota, Wisconsin and more than a dozen other states. 

And in the end, it takes students, alumni, and state population to support major collegiate athletics. New Mexico State and University of Idaho are not casualties of bad management in the WAC, but casualties of the reality of economics.