Should the Mountain West Conference Expand to 10 or 12 Teams?

Jeff JensonContributor INovember 21, 2009

Religion, Politics, and the BCS...

Many of the topics that you normally avoid at the dinner table are religion, politics, and, more recently, the BCS. Many who follow the Mountain West Conference understand the importance of getting conference expansion correct.

Having added only one team in 10 years shows just how serious the conference feels about not rocking the boat.

There have been several good arguments towards expansion, but which is the correct one? The major assumption here is that the Mountain West Conference will get an AQ (automatic qualifier) bid whether it includes 10 or 12 teams—just as long as Boise St. is part of that equation.

Here are some of the arguments and counter-arguments that have been discussed in conference expansion forums:


Expand to 10 by Adding Boise St.


Expand slowly. Provides the opportunity to wait for other football teams to get to a Boise St.-like level before expanding to 11 and/or 12.



Non-conference schedules will get messy (e.g., Air Force plays Navy, Army, plus one other), or one-time games like Utah vs. Notre Dame may become less attractive for Utah if there is no return game guarantee.

Others propose a 12-team conference expansion. The biggest debate among forum participants isn't about whether Boise St. should get in, but who the last two teams should be.

I would say the general vibe from most forums is that—besides definitely adding Boise St.—there needs to be another California team and another Texas team. A move would 1) help expand recruiting areas; and 2) ensure that Texas/California recruits get a chance to go back to their home state when conference divisions are formed.

If your team (e.g., UNLV, SDSU) is in another division, but has Texas recruits, having two Texas schools will hopefully ensure that a trip to the Lone Star State will still occur every other year.

There is a common misunderstanding about inviting other teams into the conference that I keep reading about: If we invite a team with a bowl game connection, we will automatically inherit that bowl game into our conference.

But I would ask, "Do we honestly need more than five or six bowl games if we can't win the ones that we are playing in now?"

The team that would truly lose out by these expansion statements would be the University of Nevada-Reno. Others mentioned are Tulsa, SMU, UTEP, San Jose St., and Utah St.


Expand to 12 by Adding Boise St., Fresno St., and Houston


There is potential for undefeated teams playing in a conference championship versus what would occur with only a 10-team conference.

It still gives the team that wasn't playing well at the beginning of the season an opportunity to finish strong in their division and play in the championship game with a BCS game at stake (like Colorado or Kansas St. have done in the Big 12).



Varied success in traveling to a championship game (ACC hasn't been successful, the Big 12 and SEC have had success). Taking a chance on potential and not on a proven track record in BCS rankings (outside of Boise St.).

There is a significant drop in level of play between Boise St. and the remaining teams wanting to get into the conference.


How To Divide the Conference?

There have been several recommendations as to how to divide the conference if expansion occurs. The two main suggestions are to either divide the conference—in the mold of the ACC—by splitting up designated "permanent rivals," or geographically like the Big 12.

The graphic depicts an example of what a geographic division may look like. My personal bias is toward an East and West geographical division using the Continental Divide, which seems fitting for a conference that is called the Mountain West (though I don't know how splitting Utah and BYU from Colorado St., Wyoming, and Air Force will go over).

People may also say that this makes the West division lopsided because it would contain Boise St., Utah, and BYU.

There is some truth to this, but on the other hand, you will never hear anyone in the Big 12 South complain that their division is more difficult than the North. The pollsters recognize this and it shows in their rankings. So hopefully this eventually becomes a minimal point of contention.


Travel Partners

There is also a lot of discourse in forums regarding the importance of selecting teams based on proximity—mostly for sports other than football. The divisions I mentioned earlier are examples of keeping travel partners in the same division.

WEST: Boise St.-Fresno St., UNLV-SDSU, BYU-Utah

EAST: Air Force-New Mexico, Colorado St.-Wyoming, and TCU-Houston


Form a New Conference and Kick Out Teams?

I did read a couple of articles about kicking teams out of the conference that are performing poorly. The major drawback to this thought is that 1) You have to form a new conference to probably do it; and 2) You will have to undergo another evaluation period like the Mountain West did when it was first created.

This might further delay the opportunity of being included as the seventh AQ for BCS bowl games.


An Automatic Qualifying Bid=Money=­ ­Conference Competitiveness Increase

Too many current AQ followers criticize the MWC because of the lack of top-to-bottom competitiveness. My biggest challenge to this line of thinking is, "Let's go start putting millions of dollars into a football program and see if a 'bottom dweller' won't improve it's level of play."

What is the difference between a MWC "bottom dweller" and a SEC "bottom dweller?" The records may be the same, but it is the level of play of the "bottom dwellers" that is separating the power conferences from the MWC. Let's now look at an example of what this additional BCS money can do to a former "bottom dweller."

The most current example that comes to mind is what has happened when Conference USA members South Florida, Cincinnati, and Louisville defected to the Big East. Did the increase in revenue significantly improve these universities? You bet.

Do you think that Cincinnati would be as good as they are right now if it hadn't been for the additional revenue afforded to BCS schools? It is definitely debatable.


Keep the Status Quo

The last thought is whether expansion will happen without any invites. The answer is, we'll have to see how this 2009-2010 season finishes out. If there are only two MWC teams in the final BCS poll, then the MWC may have more incentive to make one or more invites.

The biggest unanswered questions that University presidents and Craig Thompson have to answer when considering expansion are 1) What is the price of admission into the Mountain West Conference?; 2) Do you have to be as good as a TCU or Boise St.?

In other words, should the Mountain West Conference settle for anything less, or should it wait and expand as others prove themselves?