A few months back, I wrote an article talking about the about how University of North Texas had an opportunity to be a University of Texas-like realignment player albeit at the non-Automatic Qualifier FBS level.
Sadly, UNT chose to sit still rather than be bold. They chose to retreat back into their groundhog burrow anticipating six more weeks of realignment nuclear winter.
Today, after the Western Athletic Conference's play for Brigham Young University short circuited, the WAC stands on the precipice of non-existence.
With the loss of Utah and BYU, the Mountain West Conference has likely lost all hope of securing a FBS AQ bid.
The idea of securing that status was the lure and the glue that made a competitively and financially disadvantageous geographic outlier status in the MWC conference attractive to Texas Christian University.
The scenarios these changes have or will likely create all look ugly for UNT.
I am an admitted huge fan of UNT Athletic Director Rick Villarreal, who has singlehandedly orchestrated the upgrading of every athletic facility at UNT.
I think he is among the best athletic directors in the FBS world, so it is hard for me to come out so strongly against the direction this athletic department is taking, but I have to in good conscience.
(Perhaps some blame can be put on the interim President and the Chancellor and Board of Regents...You could say the jury is still out on the new President. He has a good reume for UNT's needs, but he appears to have been hired in no small part due to his past as one of the principal founders of CUSA and that could be a big part of UNT'S CUSA myopia. He has been quoted as saying UNT will listen to all conferences, but maybe the call is not his to make. Do you hire a president with those kinds of ties and then empower him to take a lesser move that still makes sense for the university, but does not take advantage of those ties? He may not be the decision maker in this process. He may just be a facilitator for one specific deal. The decision could be entirely in the hands of the Chancellor and the Board of Regents. The Board of Regents and Chancellor have seen the last two UNT presidents resign on them without a job in hand. I take that as a condemnation of a lack of vision by the Board and the Chancellor specifically, but that's largely based off editorials I have read in the papers. I am not personally plugged into school politics at the Regents' level, but the attitude towards WAC inclusion does suggest short sightedness.)
Regardless of who is championing the “gloss over the WAC option” strategy, I believe it is a bad idea. It doesn't really matter whose idea it is.
If realignment unfolds like I think it might and UNT ends up stuck in the Sun Belt, all of the principles at UNT will be taking heat over this.
Let's walk though some of the various realignment scenarios.
Scenario 1: WAC implosion
To most UNT fans who weren't thrilled by the idea of playing schools like San Jose State or Idaho, this scenario may seem like no big deal.
With no insult meant to my fellow Mean Green fans, I think that view is a short-sighted one that looks myopically at the reality of the current WAC with no critical thought to the future implications of UNT's decisions today on the university's future options.
The longer the WAC is on the ropes, the greater the odds Hawaii plays their end game move and takes their chances as a football independent.
(Perhaps their "queen's gambit" would save UH football. If it doesn't, there would be no conference waiting to admit UH: no backup plan. If the independence plan can't keep UH in the black, there is a pretty good possibility anti-football budget hawks in the island may acquire the leverage to force UH to drop football.)
If UH leaves, the WAC would seem to fall in violation of the "5/6/7 rule" that governs which conferences get automatic berths in the NCAA basketball tournament (and therefore guaranteed annual access to at least some of that money).
At that point they would not have the six core D-I members who have played together for 5 years to satisfy the hard part of the 5/6/7 rule.
They would be one of only two Division I conferences that lack a tourney bid and the promise of a guaranteed annual NCAA basketball tourney payouts.
If it came to that, it is likely that not only would the WAC have trouble acquiring replacements from the FCS and I-AAA ranks, they would likely have difficulty keeping their members schools from defecting to FCS or I-AAA conferences to regain access to the tourney revenue.
In this scenario, it is entirely likely schools like San Jose State and New Mexico State might drop football entirely and schools like Idaho and Utah State might be effectively forced to downgrade to FCS over travel costs, non-competitiveness, and inability or difficulty scheduling enough games through the conference part of the season.
There would be no WAC, leaving UNT with the stark choices many, if not most, UNT fans have wanted for the Mean Green: stay in the Sun Belt or join CUSA.
Scenario 2: TCU shows extreme loyalty and the MWC raids CUSA for the best possible argument for BCS Automatic Qualifier status.
To me, this is an extremely unlikely scenario, but let’s plays this out.
Let’s say that, as often suggested by MWC fans, that Houston and Tulsa, two of CUSA's strongest teams on the field, agree to take up the competitively disadvantageous position of distant geographic conference outliers in the MWC.
They agree to take their athletic budgets (which pale in comparison to TCU's) into a conference with huge travel costs where TV revenue is capped at a fraction of today's market value.
OK...I'll go along.
That still probably doesn't impact the MWC BCS math. The MWC would still likely only hit two of the three BCS inclusion criteria and would need to be judged by a committee of seven BCS AQ conference representatives and five non-AQ conference representatives the conference's BCS worthiness.
I track attendance. I have compiled just under 10 years of numbers. That resulting conference would not have any teams that finished in the top half of the FBS (i.e. between 1-60) in attendance over my tracking period.
But let’s keep going with the idea that there is some lure there that makes sense.
What does that leave in CUSA? The CUSA East, UTEP, SMU, Tulane, and Rice. History suggests SMU is not going to push for UNT's inclusion and may actually lead the way to keep the Mean Green out to protect their higher status in Dallas-Fort Worth. Tulsa and Rice may be UNT's best advocates, and Tulsa would be gone.
With the eastern schools having a greater sway; it is far more likely that the conference moves east to satisfy ECU and Marshall's travel concerns with perhaps Temple and former basketball only member Charlotte (now adding FBS football) being added.
Realistically who has more CUSA votes, UNT or Charlotte?
Or maybe the CUSA schools split the difference and add two proven schools in Middle Tennessee and Troy that are towards the middle of the CUSA footprint?
In any scenario that leaves SMU in CUSA, losing two CUSA West schools hurts UNT's ability to garner votes more than it helps.
UNT stays in the Sun Belt.
Scenario 3: TCU finagles its way into the BCS
TCU has no shot of getting into the Big 12 while they have arguably the 5th to 7th largest collegiate fan plus alumni base in the Metroplex and the Big 12 has maybe 5 larger ones, but that doesn't mean TCU has no shot at BCS inclusion.
As I covered in my five part Bleacher Report series on the Big East and their best options to remain a BCS conference, adding TCU would help them a lot. TCU may feel they are at the point where they would take a football-only membership in the Big East. The Big East with their voting balance might go for that today.
The Big East could add TCU as a football only member and call it a day, killing all Big East dreams in CUSA and leaving UNT stuck in the Sun Belt.
Additionally, there is a slim shot TCU could find its way into the SEC if there is a massive SEC expansion (unlikely).
A large SEC expansion, the only chance I see for TCU to get in, seems unlikely, as the SEC has previously stated a desire to only expand if other power conferences expand beyond 12 and not before then.
Additionally, it would have so many downstream effects on other conferences that there really is no way to predict the fallout with any accuracy.
With that being said, while I do acknowledge it as a possibility, I won't cover it in this article.
Scenario 4: TCU rejoins its CUSA West brethren
The best financial and competitive situation for TCU barring a gift bid from a BCS AQ conference would be to rejoin their old CUSA West partners.
If they join CUSA, the conference likely goes to 14 by adding an eastern member to satisfy Marshall, UCF, and ECU and try to retain a balance of power. One can imagine a scenario where Temple is added as a football only member for now and Charlotte for all other sports until Charlotte is competing at the FBS level.
With TCU and SMU in CUSA, UNT would certainly not have the votes to move up. They would stay in the Sun Belt.
If CUSA East is resistant to expansion, the CUSA West schools certainly want to be affiliated with a bell cow football program like TCU. They are all in football states! Football relevance is huge.
It is not difficult to imagine CUSA West breaking away to form a new Southwest Conference, adding TCU to satisfy the 5/6/7 rule and earn a basketball tourney berth.
From there, they would likely add the minimal number of schools possible (that would be one more for 8 for football) and then evaluate what they have.
That school would probably be the University of New Mexico with its very strong basketball program, good stature, and reasonable travel costs. (UNM would do a lot better in football in a conference which helps them recruit Texas athletes.)
That conference when it expands will be looking to cherry pick like the MWC did.
They may consider a Boise State, but a Memphis or even at that point Larry Coker's UTSA might make more sense. Non-football members St. Louis, Wichita State, and Creighton could be appealing adds too.
They aren't going to add UNT with TCU and SMU in the conference.
CUSA East is likely going to look at eastern schools to cut travel, Troy, MTSU, Temple, Charlotte...they won't be adding UNT. It makes no sense to do so!
In both scenarios, UNT stays in the Sun Belt.
Scenario 5: With TCU gone, the WAC cherry picks the MWC...or vice versa.
Let’s say TCU and UNM split to start a new SWC. That leaves Air Force, Colorado State, and Wyoming isolated and SDSU, UNLV, Nevada, and Fresno isolated and Boise up north on its own.
That membership is not going to attract anyone of note.
Add on the fact that they have this crappy TV deal and few markets. They are screwed.
Now imagine Karl Benson calling up Boise State and saying, "I am empowered by my membership to offer you all membership in the WAC and amnesty of all WAC claims against any of your members.
"We will call it water under the bridge; blame it on Utah and BYU whipping us all up in frenzy for their benefit, and move on."
"Oh and plus ESPN is willing to pay every member school in this new WAC three times what the MWC TV deal pays you."
With UNM out, there are no schools left who absolutely do not want to be affiliated with WAC members. (Sure no one wants to travel to Hawaii or La Tech, but a I think you can probably talk ESPN to kick out a little more money to create a travel stipend for games against those two schools as part of the TV deal).
The Cal State system would be glad to have all three members in the same stable conference. Idaho would favor being in the same conference as Boise rather than Boise leaving them behind.
That is a 14-team conference with no drama, comparatively decent travel costs due to split divisions, and pretty decent money compared to what everyone has been making in both of those conferences.
Or maybe the MWC raids the middle four WAC schools, leaving Hawaii and La Tech to likely go the Indy route in football and join a pair of I-AAA conferences for their other sports.
Where does either scenario leave UNT? In the Sun Belt.
Scenario 6: The WAC reloads with FCS schools.
The WAC has been in discussion with schools like UTSA, Texas State, Sacramento State, Portland State, and Montana. Lately, there are signs the WAC may be preparing to add some or all of these schools.
The Big Sky recently added Cal Poly and UC-Davis. That appears to be a move likely in preparation of a raid from the WAC.
It has long been speculated that Montana and Montana State are a package deal. To add Montana, an FBS conference may be required by the local legislature to bring Montana State with them.
We may soon see if this is true and whether the WAC minds bringing Montana State with their fairly strong basketball support to land the strong Grizzlies football and basketball programs.
Lamar is headed by Billy Tubbs. He has a lot of connections. Lamar could work their way into the the mix if a 12th school is needed.
Lamar drew pretty well at the top level of football back in the day and would likely quickly re-emerge as a decent draw. Lamar basketball is also pretty well supported and would help the WAC in that regard.
If The WAC hits 12 schools without UNT who would have UNT's back in the WAC? Who would be a reliable vote for UNT in the WAC? UTSA? Texas State? Not likely.
UNT hasn't come to their support in finding a conference home and this scenario would give them a recruiting edge over UNT. The WAC 6? Again, not likely after UNT has let them flounder for years.
So where does that leave UNT? Say it with me…"Stuck in the Sun Belt. ”
The realities of the Sun Belt
I can hear the Sun Belt defenders from here. "That's fine. The Sun Belt is improving by leaps and bounds! We are already better than the WAC if you look at last year's final football ratings."
UH did have an off year last year as their star QB went down early in the season, but let’s ignore that. I'll concede that statistical reality for now.
Where is the Sun Belt if the WAC dies? Right back at the bottom of the FBS ranks.
And it could get worse quickly.
Western Kentucky and Middle Tennessee have both courted MAC membership in the past. Let's look at fairly likely instances. Let’s guess WKU keeps playing well in basketball and MTSU maintains its level of play in both money sports.
Not a huge stretch. What happens if the economy of Michigan finally drags down the worst draw in the FBS world, Eastern Michigan University, to a lower level of competition (DII?) or maybe the MAC loses Temple at some point? It might make a lot of sense for the MAC to invite both schools.
Additionally, I think most people would agree that there is a fair likelihood that Troy or Middle Tennessee could get picked off if CUSA should feel a need to expand.
Where is the Sun Belt without either or both of those two schools? I'll tell you where...begging another ULM or FIU to move up.
Is that a conference UNT really wants to be tied to long term?
You can argue that UTSA and Texas State are moving up, but if you were in their shoes, would you choose the Sun Belt or a conference that has played in BCS bowls and has ESPN coverage?
UNT staying in the Sun Belt has opened the opportunity for both schools to leapfrog UNT in the conference pecking order.
If you were FIU, Troy, FAU and the other small budget Sun Belt schools and you needed a replacement school or two for a Troy and /or MTSU defection, would you want another Texas outlier who will push up travel costs at all members' schools or would you want a Jacksonville State or Georgia Southern instead?
UNT is far likely to remain the only Texas school and a distant outlier in the Sun Belt.
Is that really what UNT wants?
The Sun Belt does not own a very bright future. What Sun Belt advocates overlook is the fact that Sun Belt athletic budgets are not going up very quickly at all and due to their non-compressed footprint, they do not have the fan bases to leverage the few good markets in which they are present.
This reality will have better Sun Belt programs "graduating" to better conferences and the Sun Belt perpetually having to rebuild from the FCS ranks. The Troys and Middle Tennessees will constantly move up to be replaced by the less developed FIU's and WKU's.
Staying in the Sun Belt hurts UNT's chances of getting into CUSA or a rebuilt SWC
The Sun Belt is the bottom conference at the FBS level. Historically, they are the least competitive conference. They have the least established members. Up until this summer, they undisputedly had the smallest athletic budgets.
Realignment generally is small and incremental. CUSA is not going to start by looking at mid-level Sun Belt schools.
They are going to start by looking at the next conference down in the pecking order. At that point, it is possible that conference could be the MWC, the WAC, or maybe even the MAC.
The only way conferences drop their views lower is if there are candidates who offer something of huge merit that outweighs what candidates from better conferences could offer.
Troy has their football as their argument. MTSU has football and solid basketball. UNT has competitive NIT-level basketball and a nice media market, but attendance in all sports lag.
When the ACC needed schools, they raided the Big East. When the Big East needed schools, they raided CUSA. When the MWC needed schools they raided their rival for a BCS AQ bid, the WAC.
There is a perception element to this. With votes required to get access to a new conference, it isn't a strong position to be 2-3 conferences lower.
There is also human nature. When you've rejected something once, and you have more options next time around, sometimes it is easier to reject it again.
It isn't a given that UNT will be seriously considered by CUSA next time around if we are still in the Sun Belt.
So has the total lack of vision by UNT's leadership locked UNT into a permanent home in the Sun Belt?
Has the inaction from the leadership at UNT not only guaranteed will UNT remain in the feeder FBS conference for all other FBS conferences, but also in in the least competitive position possible in that conference, that of a geographically distant conference outlier with no in-state competition?
Not yet, but one day soon, yes.
UNT doesn't have to be a douche of a conference member like Nevada-Reno to look at another conference.
TCU, Boise State, and UNT have all been fairly upfront about their intentions with their conference mates over the years. That is admirable.
UNT is in a non-competitive spot as a distant conference outlier. They aren't a power in the Sun Belt. The Sun Belt losing UNT is not like the WAC losing Boise State.
With Southern Alabama adding football, UNT and ULL could leave and the Sun Belt would have a member mix with smaller travel costs, and scheduling would be improved with what would become a 9 for football/10 for basketball setup.
The difference between schools like UNT and schools like TCU and Boise State is that each time the latter two were presented with an opportunity to climb the conference ladder, they took it. Each time they did, they were rewarded with greater exposure and better recruits.
UNT turned down the WAC the first time in a move that I have suggested in the past was defensible as a cost-savings move by a school with what was at the time a small budget, but the more I think about it the less defensible it becomes.
If UNT had announced that they had talks with CUSA and that the WAC was considering adding them, but both conferences had concerns about Fouts Field and a lack of an appropriate athletic budget, doesn't it seem a lot more likely that the stadium approval could have been secured years ago?
Admittedly, it is a ton of speculation, but shouldn't leveraging the possibility of a new home even been tried?
Today, the students have provided a new stadium and a permanent athletic fee to help UNT get into a better conference. Isn't it a betrayal of that trust not to even try?
I am sure they didn’t approve the stadium so they could continue playing a ULM or FIU game that usually doesn’t draw 17,000.
There is still time to rectify this total blunder of ignoring the potential of the WAC before it cripples UNT sports long term.
What UNT could realistically pull off with the WAC
UNT may have more leverage with the WAC than it has ever had. Today, if UNT agreed to join the WAC (on terms that protected UNT's future), UNT could likely land a load of concessions that would put it in much better shape today and in the future than what the Sun Belt would offer.
Schools like ULL, UTSA, and Texas State are all effectively waiting on UNT. In realignment terms, they are all "motivated" schools.
University of Louisiana- Lafayette doesn't want to be in the same conference as the smaller UL-Monroe. ULL had made a play to take the previously unused but potentially powerful "University of Louisiana" brand name to mark the maturation of their university as a statewide and national university of note.
ULM stepped in at the last moment and forced ULL to effectively share the brand, forcing ULL go to the nationally less impressive name. There is some bad blood there.
ULL and would love to be in the same conference as the state's No. 3 school Louisiana Tech, but financially it is a very hard time economically in the state.
(For mean Green fans) Have I impacted your view any? Having read the article what do you think UNT should do?
The governor who has dreams of a career in national politics has tried to make a point about public spending during a recession, leading to a second pounding on budgets at all Louisiana public universities (even leading one to downgrade from the D1 ranks), hurting them far more than universities in other states.
ULL would probably be more than OK with joining the WAC, but they simply can't afford it today. If UNT joined the WAC, travel would be a little better for ULL.
If the WAC pulled UTSA and Texas State, it would be better still. If the WAC split to two 2-team divisions, WAC travel costs could be well within ULL's budget.
UTSA and Texas State know there is no guarantee the Sun Belt will feel a need to add more Texas geographic outliers.
The two Texas enrollment giants view the WAC with its ESPN connections as a higher profile home anyway. They would love to join the WAC tomorrow, but it appears there is no offer on the table.
I think there is a thought within the WAC, likely being pushed by UH, of not degrading the WAC to add FCS schools immediately when there is still a possibility the MWC might lose TCU and become quite susceptible to a raid.
In that scenario, the WAC doesn't need UTSA and Texas State.
For UTSA and Texas State, they may need UNT (and ULL) to join to get the WAC to admit the two upgrading enrollment giants.
That would give the WAC 10 all-sports members. From there adding 2 non-football members to allow sensible cost divisional play in all sports but football would make some financial sense. There is no shortage of universities that might be interested.
In travel terms, the best scenario for all parties is WAC with a minimum of 12 all-sports members.
A 12 team WAC with a SW division with UNT, ULL, La Tech, NMSU, and two of the following (Arkansas State, UTSA, or Texas State) puts UNT in the much better situation than their current Sun Belt home.
In the Sun Belt today, they are in a non-football division with ULL, ULM, Arkansas State, Denver, and ULAR. In football, they have to take a trip to Florida every year as 1 of 9 current football members.
Unless the Sun Belt expands, they will soon have fewer than 12 members so division play will stop and travel savings will vanish. There is little to suggest the Sun Belt will add FCS upgrades proactively.
In competitive terms it is far better to be in the center of the footprint rather than UNT’s current weak position of being a conference outlier in what most consider being the weakest FBS conference.
UNT can secure the WAC's future, so what should UNT demand in return?
Here are my thoughts:
1) An ironclad solidarity agreement for basketball at minimum with no wiggle room. All current WAC teams would make a five-year commitment to UNT not to leave the conference as a basketball member.
This agreement would not be there to prevent schools from leaving for better conferences in all the other sports, something that I think there is enough legal precedence out there of failed conference loyalty pacts that it would be difficult to collect.
It would be in place to ensure the retainment of the conference's automatic basketball tourney bid, the key element that allows conferences to rebuild their memberships.
It would be there to spell out the potential lost revenue that would be incurred if a tournament bid was lost and the difficulty the conference would have rebuilding.
It would have the member schools all agreeing that keeping their basketball programs in the conference for the period is a reasonable demand and that leaving the conference prior to that period would be knowingly damaging the conference's ability to generate revenue and as such, would require them to pay out damages to allow the remaining schools to have a shot to rebuild their conference.
In some ways, I am thinking of it being cast as more of a personal services contract to UNT.
If one of the WAC 6 took their basketball programs out of the conference in the 5 year window, the member schools would owe UNT specifically $10 Million.
(I think if a team left after UNT and ULL joined, UNT could build the agreement so the two universities split the first $10 Million If a second team left, the agreement could have UNT putting the next $10 Million into a fund that UNT and the others could split over years to mirror a tournament payout. This would allow the schools to play together until they are back in good standing for a tournament bid.).
There would not be point in that time period when these contracts would be voided. After all, the WAC school's athletic programs are already at risk. UNT's is not.
UNT would be taking on risk to join the WAC and guarantee those school's futures by agreeing to be the fulcrum for WAC expansion.
It makes sense UNT should be guaranteed. If the WAC cannot do anything to show they will have a basketball automatic bid three years from now, what is the point of even talking to UNT?
2) A commitment from the WAC to offer memberships to ULL, UTSA, Texas State, and at least 2 other schools and secure 12 members by 2012 to allow at minimum split divisional play in all sports beyond football and a minimum of 12 FBS playing schools to allow split division play by 2016.
The point of adding UNT is to open the door to expansion without it being exclusively deemed a Sun Belt-style FCS barrel scraping expansion by a conference with one foot in the grave.
(ULM and FIU have progressed some, but at the time most would consider those additions by the Sun Belt a barrel scraping of schools unprepared to move up.)
Once a conference has over 8 members, expansion is viewed as by choice, not by desperation.
3) For two years, the conference would agree to split a portion of ULL's travel costs over a certain threshold in sports where the conference does not participate in split division play. (I see this as a "cost of doing business" to allow ULL the political cover to join in today's economic conditions in Louisiana.)
4) The WAC secures UNT an annual football game in a multi-year home and home series against BYU. The WAC can still do a lot to help BYU's independence effort and BYU will almost certainly have to work with the WAC along those lines. The WAC can offer enough value to BYU to get BYU to agree to play a series against UNT.
Seeing BYU come off TCU's schedule and become a biannual sellout on UNT's schedule would dramatically raise the exposure of UNT football in the metroplex. UNT's only good home draws OOC in the last few years have been games against Army.
Rice should be a good draw this year and Baylor was a good draw years ago, but no local or Texas schools feel any real need to play UNT. Putting a school the caliber of BYU on the schedule would be huge.
Either a BYU series or a better division with Texas schools and higher-profile rivals alone would make the move to the WAC worthwhile for UNT.
Both would make it a slam dunk for the Mean Green. For the WAC, it would be another cost of business to land a key school that has administrators, alumni, boosters, and fans that have huge doubts about the WAC's future.
5) Allow UNT an exit provision without fees if CUSA comes calling. There is a large contingent of UNT fans, alumni, and boosters who will not sign off on anything if it doesn't allow a CUSA escape clause.
For the WAC, allowing UNT such a clause is irrelevant. They need UNT today. Tomorrow, they could likely afford to lose the Mean Green to CUSA.
The important aspect of the 5/6/7 rule is keeping the WAC 6 playing basketball together, which adding UNT today helps ensure.
ULL, UTSA, Texas State or pretty much any of the other candidates mentioned for WAC inclusion could be core DI team seven if UNT leaves in a few years. The exit fee payout clause could then roll over to the next school that joined the WAC (ULL?).
Move up or pay the price
When you refuse to move up the conference pecking order, you open the door for other schools to pass you. UTSA and Texas State appear to be on the WAC radar.
Lamar is also looking to move up and could be on the WAC radar if the WAC needs another school. That could put all three upgrading Texas schools in a conference with better TV than the Sun Belt.
UNT is currently 10th in the state in recruiting among the 10 FBS schools most years. This could very possibly have UNT annually finishing 13th.
Talent is 80% of the equation at the FBS level. If you don't have talent, you will have a hard time winning.
If you don't win, you will have a hard time filling your stadium. If you don't fill your facilities, you will have hard time impressing higher level conferences.
The only way to assure UNT doesn't fall behind those three schools is to have UNT lead the way for UTSA and Texas State into the WAC.
The idea that the WAC will trail behind the Sun Belt, if they add FCS schools is not an idea that holds a lot of water.
It looks like UTSA, Texas State, and Montana are serious candidates. UTSA and Texas State have a large mostly untapped region in central and south Texas to feed their recruiting and will have 2 of the largest athletic budgets in the WAC.
UTSA is headed by Larry Coker, a coach who has won a BCS title in this decade. Texas State is an annual FCS playoff program.
Montana is an FCS power with several national titles at that level. Additionally Montana is close enough to the Dakotas to be able to cherry pick the best talents that makes those four schools some of the most dangerous at the FCS level.
It is not difficult to imagine Montana being a better school than Wyoming or even Nevada from Day One at the FBS level. Their program is that solid and well known in the region.
It is not out of the question that all three schools could join Hawaii and La Tech in sharing Boise State's old position as ESPN's new TV sweetheart.
College football is a dynamic system where schools in conferences work against each other for resources.
Changes here or there can change the entire equation. UNT's leadership and it's fans are being short sighted assuming that they can hold their position and not lose ground.
Here's hoping the leadership at UNT re-evaluates.