Overnight, news began to break that the University of Hawaii will be moving from the WAC to the Mountain West for football and the Big West for basketball and non-revenue sports.
The addition of Hawaii pushes the Mountain West to a total of 11 teams. To my sensibilities, this indicates that at least one more move will occur between now and the start of the 2012-13 academic year.
Either TCU will leave for the Big East (or Big 12) and the MWC will stand pat with 10 teams, the Mountain West will add one school to bring the league to an even 12 and add a conference championship game, or TCU will leave and the MWC will replace the Frogs with two teams.
Here are some of the possible moves and my take on how likely they are.
The popular rumor over the last several weeks has TCU taking its football program (and possibly entire athletic department) to the Big East in an attempt to increase the football relevance of both parties.
The short-term benefits for both parties are pretty obvious. The Big East gains some of the football credibility that it has lost in recent years, and TCU gets a path to the BCS (and national championship) that many perceive as easier.
The Big East intends to add at least two teams in the near future. TCU and Central Florida are the current favorites, followed by East Carolina, Villanova, Temple, Memphis and others in no particular order.
Currently, the Big East wants to add these schools as football only members, but the schools are holding out for full membership.
Should TCU join as a football-only member, it would likely move all other sports to the Missouri Valley conference, as the MWC has indicated it won’t allow member schools to maintain membership without a football program.
I think that in the end, TCU will choose the MWC over the Big East. Geographically, the MWC is a better fit, and TCU has a history with those schools that it doesn’t have with the Big East. Over the long run, I feel that the prospects for the MWC as a football conference are greater than those of the Big East.
This is a move that makes a whole lot more sense than a move to the Big East. If the Big 12 is to survive over the long run, it will need to return to a 12-team, two-division format.
In my book, TCU is on the short list of best options for Big 12 expansion (along with Memphis, Houston and BYU).
TCU provides another strong football program to bolster the conference. It also adds a baseball power to rival Texas for conference supremacy.
However, there are many negatives that get in the way of TCU joining the Big 12.
There are still many leftover bad feelings from the breakup of the old SWC. Also, TCU may add respect for the Big 12 in football and baseball, but it detracts from Big 12 basketball (currently the conference’s strongest sport). Houston, BYU and Memphis are all stronger basketball options.
Lastly, the Big 12 already has the Dallas-Fort Worth media market well wrapped up. Financially, the conference has little to gain from adding another Texas-based school. Memphis and BYU (Colorado State or New Mexico as well, but not likely) serve as better choices for expanding the media “footprint” of the conference.
When push comes to shove, I don’t see either of the previous options as workable for TCU.
Instead, I see the most likely move for the MWC as the addition of a 12th program to improve the conference’s ability to reach BCS-AQ status.
Here is a list of the candidates ranked in order of likelihood/benefit for the conference.
Advantages: Rice has a history with many of the Mountain West schools from its days in the WAC immediately following the breakup of the SWC. Rice adds the Houston TV market to the MWC. It could add a potential geographic rival
Negatives: Rice is not exactly a football power. The Owls are not very competitive in C-USA, so I don’t think they will be able to be competitive in the MWC. Rice won’t add anything to the conference’s profile and would likely detract from a bid for BCS-AQ status.
In terms of the media market, Rice has one of the smallest alumni bases in the Bowl Subdivision, and the Houston market would be better served by adding UH. Houston is a geographic outlier in the current MWC.
Likelihood: Zero—Rice is better off in C-USA, and the MWC is better off without them.
Advantages: Tulsa has a history with many MWC schools (same WAC connection as Rice). The Tulsa market would be a welcome addition for The Mtn. network. The football program is stronger than Rice.
Negatives: Much like Rice, Tulsa has a very small alumni base. Though Tulsa is in a relatively strong market, MWC games would play third fiddle to Oklahoma and OSU games. I think there are some better markets. The football program adds little to the conference’s resume. Tulsa is a geographic outlier for the conference.
Likelihood: Slightly better than Rice, but razor-thin—Tulsa is a better fit for C-USA.
Advantages: Heading into this season, the MWC had a stranglehold on the Utah media market via BYU and Utah. Starting next year, the MWC will have neither school; adding Utah State will keep the MWC relevant in Utah. Utah State was offered and declined an invitation to the conference several months ago.
The Aggie basketball program adds to an already strong MWC and helps cushion the blow of losing BYU and Utah. USU has history with most of the MWC schools.
Negatives: Though Utah State keeps the MWC on Utah televisions, USU is clearly the No. 3 TV draw in the state and likely won’t help ratings in Utah. When Utah State was invited, it was seen by most as a last-gasp attempt to keep BYU from leaving due to the close relationship between the schools.
The Aggies will likely not draw enough TV viewers to justify adding their weak football program and hurting the BCS-AQ bid. Though good, the basketball program doesn’t make up for the lack of a strong football program. As we all know, football is the driving force behind realignment.
Likelihood: Slim—The football program just isn’t good enough, and it doesn’t provide a strong enough TV draw. It is not the best option for a non-Texas school should the conference want to go in that direction.
Advantages: The Montana football program is the class of the Championship Subdivision. Having the Grizzlies should help the MWC football résumé.
Montana has two national championships (1995-2001) and has appeared in five national championship games in the last decade (2000, 2001, 2005, 2008, 2009). Montana is an untapped market for FBS football.
Negatives: The Grizzlies have already declined one invite from an FBS conference (the WAC) and appear to be happy remaining an FCS powerhouse. The Montana media market doesn’t compare to the markets available in Texas.
Likelihood: Moderate—This is the best non-Texas option for the conference. Though Montana said no to the WAC, the MWC is a potential BCS-AQ conference and has much more stability than the WAC.
Advantages: UH is a traditionally strong school for both football and basketball. The university is planning on investing heavily in upgrading its athletic facilities.
UH grants access to the Houston media (and recruiting) market for the MWC schools. The addition of a second Texas school helps solidify the conference’s foothold in Texas.
Negatives: Houston is a geographic outlier for the MWC. UH doesn’t have a traditionally strong fanbase. Texas A&M and UT are the big draws in the area. Houston might be holding out for an eventual Big 12 invitation. UH doesn’t have the kind of history with MWC schools as the next two options.
Likelihood: Strong—There are more advantages than disadvantages to adding Houston. The MWC couldn’t go wrong with this one.
Advantages: The El Paso media market is stronger than many would expect. Not only is there a large population, but UTEP athletics also have no competition for attention. El Paso is a better geographic fit in the MWC than C-USA. UTEP has a history with most of the MWC.
Negatives: The football program is probably the fourth best option strength-wise for the conference. The addition of UTEP still leaves TCU as the major geographic outlier in the eastern half of the conference.
Likelihood: Very Strong—This is really a case of 1 and 1-A in my book. There are several factors that lead me to putting this option second.
Advantages: SMU football is historically the strongest program on the list (its résumé is comparable to TCU, minus the Frogs’ recent success). Under June Jones, the Mustangs appear to be on their way back to national relevance. SMU has a strong and rich alumni base that is more than willing to support the team.
Adding TCU’s primary rival in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex has two advantages. First, it provides incentive for TCU to not leave should a “better offer” come around. Second, it provides insurance should TCU leave, as the MWC will still have a foothold in the very important Dallas-Fort Worth market.
The university also has a brand new football stadium.
Negatives: Though traditionally strong, SMU has been less than stellar since receiving the NCAA death penalty. Adding SMU would involve betting that the program will continue to improve under Jones and/or his successor. The university offers little in terms of adding to the conference’s media footprint.
SMU doesn’t bring much to the conference in sports other than football. Adding SMU has the potential to be a very dangerous gamble.
Likelihood: Very Strong—SMU is a sleeping giant of a football program. Having the Mustangs is important both for keeping TCU and in a potential post-TCU apocalypse.
This is where I come down on this issue. What do you think? Is there anything I missed? As always, comments are encouraged and appreciated.