Just a year ago, the answer to this question would have been a resounding no. The Mountain West was by far the best mid-major conference in the nation.
It possessed a winning record against the Pac-10 over the past few years. It was 2-1 in BCS games. And it routinely posted stronger computer numbers than automatic qualifying BCS conferences the Big East and the Mountain West.
Further, the Mountain West was on the verge of playing its way into receiving automatic bid status from the BCS. But again, that was a year ago.
Now, the Mountain West is losing its strongest program, Utah, and its biggest drawer of ratings and revenue, BYU. Sure, they add Boise, but there isn't a single conference commissioner that would choose Boise over either BYU or Utah, let alone both of them.
Now the Mountain West could have rebounded from losing its two marquee programs by seeing it as an opportunity to expand in a way that would add TV markets, recruiting grounds and growth potential.
In short, they should have gone after Houston and SMU. That would have allowed the conference, which again is getting its own AQ bid in a year or two, to challenge an unstable Big 12.
In the process, they would have allowed TCU to make their old Southwest Conference rivalries meaningful again, and reduced the travel demands for the Texas school in what is a conference that is mostly based in the Rockies and on the West Coast.
But instead of making a move signaling that they were thinking about the future and taking on the big boys, apparently the Mountain West decided that they were going to continue fighting with the small-time guys over scraps by using this as an opportunity to kill off the WAC by taking Fresno, Nevada, and—I'm not kidding—considering mighty Utah State.
That the Mountain West is even considering an atrocious program with absolutely no potential (what's the No. 3 program in Utah ever going to accomplish?) while making no overtures whatsoever to the Texas schools shows that the MWC cares more about taking care of the interests of the state of Utah (for reasons political, cultural, financial and otherwise, as if maintaining a presence in the state whose two institutions just used you and kicked you to the curb is so important) than either looking out for TCU or for its own future.
Basically, the Mountain West Conference is by and for the Mountain West schools. Utah is a Mountain West state, TCU is not. TCU is just being used by the MWC for recruiting and exposure purposes.
They are a stepchild, not a valued member of the conference, and that is how it is always going to be. Now if you are a stepchild in a strong conference as Arkansas is to the SEC, fine.
But if you are a stepchild in a conference that doesn't even realize that adding another California school like San Jose State or even adding Louisiana Tech to get on TV screens in the talent- and ratings-rich SEC country is better for their immediate and long-term interests than simply having a Utah school in your conference, then what's the point?
Also, on the football field, it should be acknowledged that adding Nevada, Fresno and especially Utah State will water down the product.
Taking on those schools will not help TCU's future aspirations to contend for BCS berths and possibly a national title when Wyoming, Colorado State, UNLV and particularly New Mexico are struggling with little hope of getting better in the near future.
Now of course, for all we know Fresno and Nevada may be top 10 teams 10 years from now. Big deal. Ten years from now, TCU may not be.
TCU needs to take advantage of their being a (relative) powerhouse NOW, and put themselves in a position where their athletics will be meaningful whether they are going 12-1 every year or 7-5 every year.
That isn't going to happen playing road games against Fresno or home games against Utah State, programs that their fans have no reason to know or care about (and yes the same is also true for pretty much everyone in the Mountain West save the ones that are LEAVING).
Now granted, TCU owes part of the blame for the coming MWC fiasco on itself. A few months ago, Baylor was scrambling trying to find a home because they thought the Big 12 was going to die. They would have accepted an invite from the MWC at that time in a heartbeat, and Missouri and Kansas would have followed soon after.
And of course, had that happened, Utah and BYU would still be in the MWC, making for a very credible football and basketball conference. But TCU, still bitter over Baylor's getting into the Big 12 and leaving them behind (knowing full well that they would have done it to Baylor if they had the chance!) blocked it, and in the process unwittingly helped save the Big 12. So, they wound up cutting off their own nose to spite Baylor's face.
Basically, Baylor committed the same error that the MWC is: being unwilling to give up the past. Just as TCU wanted to make Baylor eat dirt, the MWC wanted to win their little war of western mid-majors against the WAC. Well, three strikes and you are out. TCU should not be held back by the MWC's failure to move forward.
Instead, TCU should move back ... back to their former SWC brethren in Conference USA. Do that, and again they will have manageable travel costs. Again, they will play meaningful games against long-time rivals that their fans care about.
And more important: again they will be in an up and coming mid-major conference. Houston, SMU, Tulsa, UTEP, UCF, East Carolina and Southern Miss are on the rise. (UAB would be if they would stop playing sacrificial lamb to SEC schools for paychecks ... if they can't pay their bills they need to go back to the Sun Belt.)
If TCU were to join them, they'd be a force to be reckoned with. Actually, they are going to be a force to be reckoned with soon either way (as Houston and SMU continue to improve, and UCF and East Carolina continue to benefit from the disasters that are the Big East and ACC), but regaining TCU would only cause it to happen faster.
Just look at the demographics. MWC schools would have California, sure, but also Wyoming, New Mexico, Idaho, Colorado and Utah. C-USA by contrast has Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Texas and Florida.
If you want recruits or TV screens, which would you choose? Now a problem is that C-USA already has 12 teams. Big deal. Add another team to go with TCU, whether Louisiana Tech or (preferably for the Miami market) FIU.
Yes, C-USA would be competing with the Big 12, SEC and ACC. But who is the current MWC going to be competing with? Crickets ... crickets ...
Look, time for TCU fans to face facts: the MWC was Utah, BYU and everybody else. Colorado State, Air Force, New Mexico ... they were just teams for the two programs that the conference was established to showcase in the first place to beat.
And that's why the MWC added you guys ... to give BYU and Utah more exposure and competition. Well, now that Utah and BYU have left their little sandbox, why are you still in it?
Don't kid yourself into believing that you will ever be to the MWC what Utah and BYU were, because (again) if the MWC saw you that way, they would have invited Houston so that the conference's big rivalry would be TCU-Houston instead of negotiating with Utah State to fill their Utah-shaped hole in their hearts.
TCU isn't even going to take their place at the top of the pecking order next season, Boise will because in case you haven't noticed, Boise is actually a school in the "mountain west" region of the country. TCU isn't.
TCU needs to ditch their outsider status in a conference that is going nowhere in favor of being the lead dog in the conference that has potential. TCU, join Conference USA!