Mountain West Football 2010: Lessons Learned and Future Outlook

Jeff JensonContributor IJanuary 18, 2011

LAS VEGAS - NOVEMBER 13:  Phillip Payne (L) #4 of the UNLV Rebels runs into Tashaun Gipson #4 of the Wyoming Cowboys after Payne caught a 21-yard touchdown pass at Sam Boyd Stadium November 13, 2010 in Las Vegas, Nevada.  (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Taking a “gang of any number” seriously is almost laughable now

Much of the early banter before the wheels blew off the MWC expansion rumors revolved around keeping the “gang of four or five,” consisting of BYU, Utah, Wyoming, Colorado State and maybe New Mexico (depending on who you talk to), together. The gang theory is only a relationship of convenience, nothing more.

It will be interesting to see what happens now because there is a new “gang of four” consisting of Colorado State, Wyoming, Air Force and New Mexico that will get along with another “gang of 4” consisting of Boise State, Fresno State, Nevada and Hawai’i.

Not quite Jets and Sharks, but it will be interesting to see where the power shifts now that BYU and Utah are out of the picture.


“You mess with the bull, you get the horns!”

Captain Hindsight would say, “Maybe doing BYU’s dirty laundry wasn’t such a good idea after all.”

A 20-year employee of BYU moves to Utah State to become university president. BYU needs someone to push/promote the idea of getting WAC members to sign a contract to stick together. Like all pyramid or Ponzi schemes, you have to start by getting someone to sign up, in this case Utah State. Whether asked or volunteered, Utah State tries to get their fellow WAC members to buy in, aka expanding the pyramid a level. It sounded too good to be true.

Once the MWC caught wind of the situation, Craig “the former Sun Belt Conference Commissioner” Thompson finally started acting like a “big boy” conference commissioner after 10 years of treating the MWC like the Sun Belt, first by the “We’ll smoke them out” tactic by making Utah State turn down an invite.

I try to imagine what that telephone call must've sounded like when Utah State is trying to say no thanks because they are very happy staying in the WAC (classic pyramid/Ponzi scheme indoctrination). After Thompson finishes laughing from the prank call, he dials Nevada and Fresno State. This may one day be turned into a made for television movie. 

With Hawaii moving to the MWC, the WAC will either disappear completely or be at least 10 years removed from being seriously competitive again.

One of the coinciding reasons that I lean towards disappearing (at least in the West) is the less mentioned expansion of the Big Sky Conference. The Big Sky Conference had several invitations of fellow FCS schools accepted, which essentially limited the options that the WAC could choose from.

Expansion for the WAC will probably have to come from Texas again, most likely another raid of the Southland Conference. Nonetheless, the pickings are slim.


Bad television contracts can destroy conferences

Cue the rewind...the Super WAC of the '90s negotiated its television contract before inviting six more teams: three FBS newbies (which is a discussion for another day): UNLV, SJSU and Tulsa; and three former SWC schools: Rice, SMU, TCU).

The ESPN contract could not be renegotiated significantly/successfully with the additions except for the new CCG. This, along with the pod idea, among other things (“academic standing” of new members), led to the MWC movement.

Now to the 2Ks. The MWC is once again not happy with the ESPN offer, not only in terms of money but in terms of having to play on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. A better money offer (over twice as much as what ESPN was willing to pay) comes in, along with the opportunity of playing primarily on Saturdays and having their own channel to boot. Like most sales jobs, it sounded too good to be true.

If the MWC would have read the fine print, they would have saw the following: 1) If ever want people to see any games, they have to call their local cable provider/satellite company and ask them to put it in their lineup.

2) Any verbal agreements and handshakes that are not in writing (e.g. BYU TV rebroadcasting of games) is just lip service and nothing more.

3) The allure of being affiliated with CBS doesn’t mean that any game will ever be bumped up to prime time, no matter the national implications (e.g. TCU vs. Utah this year).

4) Just because Comcast has an invested interest doesn’t mean that the Mtn. will be available on all Comcast networks (this is gradually changing, but the MWC is almost halfway through the contract).

Now this just in: The Mtn. may be getting the axe by DirecTV (which will be cutting channels over the next two years to save money).

This allure of what the Mtn. could become was overly romanticized to what it actually is. Anyone who saw the final BYU-Utah broadcast on this channel would have heard Todd Christensen using the child phrase “Na na na na na!”—a definite first in sports broadcasting.

As much as people disliked BYU for leaving, particularly their cloak and dagger method, one cannot blame them for wanting to get out of another bad television contract.


What the MWC should be doing next…

For now, the only option to expand beyond 10 teams is with WAC teams. This is due to the new (higher paying contract) that Fox is paying to C-USA. Any C-USA school would be taking a pay cut in television revenue to join the MWC. This also, in all likelihood, ends the possibility of a merger now that the two conferences have different television partners.

At first glance it looks like the MWC is being left behind until its contract is finished in 2016, but the C-USA move opens the renegotiation contract door with Comcast. In other words, if there are any Texas schools (or Tulsa) that Comcast wants back (at least till 2016), they will have to pay up.

Once again, it will be up Craig Thompson to see whether he has the nerve to serve the interests of the MWC or not bother his commissioner buddy/BFF in C-USA.


One final closing note about the “Little Sisters of the Poor”

My first impressions of Gordon Gee’s (Ohio State’s President) comments of "We do not play the Little Sisters of the Poor" were that they were pretty hypocritical considering Ohio State’s very weak OOC schedule.

Then shortly after TCU announced that it was leaving for the Big East, the University of Wyoming’s AD, Tom Burman, was pretty excited over the Horned Frogs' departure. He said, "Wyoming is in a league now where budgets are at least comparable. TCU was spending in the mid-50s (in terms of millions of dollars), we're spending in the mid-20s. ... From that perspective, it's good. But there are some issues we have to resolve."

If an athletic program is going to whine about another’s bigger budget, then maybe they need to be in a different conference. I thought that the Mountain West has been trying to become one of the big boys, but apparently Wyoming is content being a “little sister of the poor.” Hopefully Cowboy fans took this the same way I did so they can send a wake-up call to their athletic department to change its attitude.