While the Big East and Big 12 may be heading for disaster, the Mountain West is positioned well to fill the void.
On its own merits, the conference is on the verge of becoming the seventh automatic qualifying BCS league. BYU, Colorado State, New Mexico, TCU, and Utah are being batted around as expansion candidates to current BCS conferences.
With a strategic plan for the future, the MWC could become a true power conference with national championship-caliber football and basketball teams and a television network to broadcast from the mountain top.
How does the Mountain West get to the top and stay there? Here's a quick To-Do List:
1. Contact Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma State, and Texas Tech immediately. Invite them all to join the conference. The Mountain west will not receive yeses in return, but this will open communication.
All of the schools have flaws that make them unattractive to other conferences, whether academic (Oklahoma State, Texas Tech) or geographic (Colorado, Kansas). However, the positives they provide make them great additions to the conference.
Colorado and Texas Tech offer the opportunity to improve the media market, Oklahoma State brings a deep wallet and rich tradition, and Kansas would deliver national prominence in a revenue sport.
The conference will not get all of these schools, and they may bring along less than exciting partners (Kansas State and Baylor), but they all have a big enough following to make any negatives worth the invitation.
2. Drop Wyoming. The Cowboys have won only two regular season championships and no tournament championships in any sport, men's or women's, since the creation of the league.
One criteria for automatic BCS qualification is the final regular-season rankings of all conference teams in the computer rankings used by the BCS each year. While Colorado State, New Mexico, and San Diego State are ranked lower, at least they provide decent markets and interest.
Do this, and the MWC is now at eight schools.
3. Create a six year cross-match series with the Big East, or the new ACC after the earth stops shaking, similar to what the ACC-Big Ten Challenge is in basketball.
Scheduling is tougher in football but it can be done.
Project games two years out. For example, 2009 champions TCU would play Cincinnati in 2011. Make the games home games for the BE four years and MWC two years. If the Mountain West grows larger than eight, which they will, designate which schools don't participate each year to help with scheduling.
This gives the MWC national appeal and sets up a proving ground for two struggling conferences. One thing is clear in the changing college football landscape: conferences are no longer regional. Money is made by being nationally relevant.
4. Increase the conference academic profile. Set standards in research, master's, and doctorate degrees, and set enrollment criteria that each school must reach within the next 10 years.
The more smart people graduating from the universities, the more money they will make and give back. In turn, they facilities will be good enough to sustain the Mountain West as a legitimate power conference. Demand that San Diego State, UNLV, and New Mexico catch up.
5. Do not invite Houston, SMU or a California state school. None of them have national appeal. The MWC already owns the schools that have any national relevance and are not in BCS conferences.
Exception: If Houston can pull off an undefeated season in 2010, they should be considered.
6. Continue to wait to invite Boise State. Boise State should be the 12th team in the conference, not the ninth or 10th.
Currently there are four potential BCS party crashers and two could possibly get invited to the table with undefeated seasons. Invite the Broncos and a round robin format means that party crasher number drops to one.
Wait on the Broncos and keep raising the conference's future profile. The Mountain West will be glad they did.