"Hawaii's Not the Only One": Breaking Down the MWC's Likeliest 12th Member
Stephen Weber, the president of San Diego State, was quoted as saying that Hawaii was only the first school that was on the Mountain West's list and that they are still talking with other schools about a potential invite.
Weber also let loose that the MWC wants 12 schools and that prized moneymaking title game.
There has been quite a few articles written already with their own suggestions and predictions on who the 12th school should be. For the most part the schools are the same, but a few oddballs have popped up as well.
I figured it would be a good idea just to list all possible schools and rank them from the impossible to the most plausible.
No one is excluded; many will be dismissed.
Let's start the list...
The Impossible: FCS Schools
Some articles have reasoned that Montana might would make the jump if the Mountain West came calling. It would be cheaper travel-wise, and the former rivalry between the Grizzlies and Broncos could come back to life.
Two things prevent this from ever happening.
One: Montana said no to the WAC not just because of travel expenses, but because of the overall cost it would be to make the jump to FBS. More scholarships would have to be given for football, and because of Title IX, they would have to equal those added to football by adding them to women's sports as well.
Montana would also have to add sport programs. While had they joined the WAC they would have gotten a pass due to the WAC's circumstances, a Mtn. West invite would mean they would have to go up to 16 sports. Montana currently has 14. That would mean more scholarships, more travel costs, etc. In other words, it would have been cheaper to go to the WAC.
Does Montana have the potential to jump in and be a powerful program? Sure. Look at Boise. But Idaho and Western Kentucky were also considered I-AA/FCS powers before they moved up. Their hardships also played a role in Montana's decision.
Two: AQ (automatic qualifier) status. Adding any FCS program (even Montana) would only hurt the Mountain West's quest to get that automatic BCS bid away from the Big East. The BCS grades each conference by how their members (present and future) have done since the last evaluation. The best grades get AQ status.
Now think of it this way: We've all been to school and taken tests. The higher our test scores, the better our average. Adding a FCS school, no matter how successful, would be like getting a zero on a test. While programs like Wyoming and UNLV aren't doing the conference any favors, they aren't zeros...grade-wise anyway...
The Improbable: Current BCS Schools
Unless a school gets kicked out of the big conferences, no one from the current BCS conferences will want to join the MWC.
There have been some articles saying that some of the Texas schools may go ahead and leave the Big 12 due to the balance of power residing in Austin. Others have said that Missouri may still get kicked out eventually.
There is a chance that either of these will happen, but there is also a chance that tomorrow I'll inherit a million dollars.
Don't count on Utah and Colorado leaving the Pac-10 (12) either.
Highly Unlikely: The Schools That Are Last on the List
Now we can start listing schools that might be on the list for expansion. First, are the schools that may be brought in as a last resort. Three schools make up this category: San Jose State, New Mexico State and North Texas.
Now we all know that the main thing considered with expansion is football, so with all due respect to San Jose's track and field, baseball and golf programs, I'm putting the Spartans at the bottom. No fan support, no media incentive and no consistent on-field success since the Big West days.
They would give the Mountain West another California school, which would make them one of two conferences with all the California schools, but that would be the only thing San Jose would offer. Can't even say they would make a great traveling partner for San Diego St., as they already have one in Fresno (a school that is also much closer to San Diego than San Jose).
Above the Spartans, I placed the Aggies of New Mexico State. Like the Spartans, they have little support for their football program and an equal amount of success. They do have two things going for them that puts them above their WAC brother: an established rivalry with the Lobos of New Mexico and a close enough vicinity to Texas to help with TCU's traveling. Unfortunately, there are better options that can provide both benefits with better football programs.
I could also mention their basketball program, but those other schools have just as good or better basketball than the Aggies too.
Last in this category, and by default the best chance of the three, North Texas. The Mean Green are only six years removed from their run of four straight Sun Belt championships and have a new stadium that should be ready by next year. They are also the third largest school in the state.
They are closer to TCU than any other school I will mention (with one obvious exception). They also have a good deal of support from fans, something the other two schools don't have, and moving up to a better conference would bring more people to the stadium.
Problem is they are still a Sun Belt school and would only detract from the Mountain West's AQ goal. There are schools in better conferences with much better résumés that would fit better with what the Mountain West wants to accomplish.
Sorry Mean Green; I have a bit of an attachment to you, but chances are better you guys will get invited to the WAC than the Mountain West.
The schools in this group are safety nets should something happen to either current members in the conference or the schools that are above them in this list. They wouldn't push the Mountain West into the BCS club, but they aren't dumpster fires either.
They are Idaho, Utah State, SMU and Rice.
I almost put the Vandals with San Jose, NMSU and North Texas, and maybe they still should be put there. You can even make a good argument that UNT is above Idaho. But I put them here because they have established rivalries with current and future MWC schools. They are also more of a geographical fit.
As mentioned before, however, they haven't been the same since moving to FBS and football being dropped from the Big West in the late '90s. If anything, they are a safety net should schools not accept invites and other schools leave. It would be an easier transition compared to the schools below them, which is why I put them here.
Then there's Rice, another Texas school that is located in the TV market of Houston. That is the only reason that gets them here in this group. Exposure is exposure, and even though no one in the city of Houston watches the Owls, they would love to watch TCU.
Who knows—with vacation spots Honolulu, Las Vegas and San Diego being shown on TV, maybe it can help bring the program some money and recruits. But Rice will get considered for an invite only if TCU leaves and another C-USA school in the area says no.
Now we come to the school that already spurned an invite from the Mountain West: Utah State. They could have helped convince BYU to stay (they have a strong presence in the LDS church) and replace the Utes in the Salt Lake market. Now they still offer Salt Lake City, but it isn't as attractive when it's just them alone.
They will probably remain in consideration as a way for the Mtn. to remain in the state, but don't expect another invite to head towards the Aggies unless the Mountain West wants to expand beyond 12 teams, which doesn't seem likely as it would defeat the purpose of creating the Mountain West in the first place.
Last, but not least, Southern Methodist University. This school could easily been on the next slide, but their lack of success since the "death penalty" kept them out of it. They are on an upswing and appear to be on their way back to the Pony Express days. SMU brings in more of the DFW market and can either help keep TCU or replace TCU should they leave. A potential rivalry could also develop with Hawaii, should June Jones stay.
Their lack of success since the BCS era started (not counting this year and last year) would hurt, but don't be surprised if they get an invite anyway.
The Best of the Rest
Most of you should know who these remaining schools are. They keep coming up no matter the article and make the most sense.
They have been solid competitors and can help push for that BCS bid. They also have other things to offer that can help the conference in terms of football.
The first one is Tulsa. The Golden Hurricane have been a solid program coming close to busting the BCS on a few occasions. They have a loyal fanbase and offer a new TV market for the Mountain West in Oklahoma City.
Tulsa also is a prime recruiting spot, as the two high schools in the city are among the best in the country. Like the others on the list, it gives an incentive for TCU to stay.
The one problem with Tulsa is they're small...in fact, they have the smallest student population among FBS schools, making Tulsa the smallest football program in D-I. While they have loyal fans, you wouldn't know it by the population, and they don't get much in outside fan support due to the Sooners and Cowboys.
That makes it more impressive that they have produced on a regular basis for some time now. Their good record should put them in the conversation for expansion.
The next school is UTEP. It was hard putting them over Tulsa, mainly because they have underachieved as a program and don't appear to be able to rise above the level of mediocre anytime soon. But they have bodies...lots of bodies. Despite the average to poor teams put on the field the past few years, UTEP's attendance has been great—better than some of the current teams in the MWC.
They already have a rivalry in New Mexico, and it wouldn't be hard for one to form with TCU. El Paso is an underestimated TV market, as it brings in both Western Texas and Eastern New Mexico. I expect them to get the nod should this school get dropped or says no.
Finally, the University of Houston.
Like Tulsa, they have been close to busting the BCS. Like Rice, are in the Houston TV market. They would help keep TCU and would be competitive right away. They are also the popular choice in the media. Plans for a new stadium also help the Cougars' case.
What doesn't help, and what may decide if they join or not, is that they would be the farthest member in the conference. Also, they are also part of the rumors (along with TCU) of being considered for a Big East invite. Houston's fanbase is relatively small due to many residents being Texas and Texas A&M alumni.
Any of these three schools could be justified as being better than the other, and I wouldn't be surprised if one of them got the invite. But if Houston gets the invitation and refuses, keep an eye on TCU, as it may connect with the rumors surrounding the Big East.
You Still Here?
If you are, congrats on reading an article written by someone who is snowed in and cut off from the world. (Get me out of here!)
Here are some parting thoughts:
With the MWC headquarters in Colorado Springs, why not invite Denver from the sinking ship of the WAC?
Wyoming, why not move to the WAC? You might actually win something, and you would be seen as a savior of the conference. Nah, never mind, founding members won't leave...wait, Utah and BYU left...
As a reward for anyone still reading this, here are the Green Bay Bikini Girls.