With the news that Boise State is going to return to the conference they never left, many possibilities arise. The Mountain West Conference is poised to become a very good and very stable conference.
Boise State is just one of many pieces of the puzzle now coming together. The newly renegotiated television contract is a positive, but its replacement in 2016 could be much better than any could have imagined just weeks ago.
However, the MWC must get some things done before that happens.
Go get BYU...
First, with the new creative financial structure the MWC negotiated as part of Boise State's return, BYU should be able to land a deal that is adequate for them to come back to the conference. Not only that, but with the collapse of the Western Athletic Conference, BYU doesn't have a scheduling partner any longer.
As part of a new MWC, BYU should not only be able to get the television deal they want and the financial portion needed, but it will give them an easier task of scheduling games.
One of those games in conference would be against instate rival Utah State, which is set to become a member of the MWC in 2013. That would satisfy some in Utah that want that to happen, and as a conference game it would be an even bigger match up and insure it happened on a yearly basis.
One other benefit that the Cougars could receive by becoming part of the Mountain West once again is a place at the new BCS table. The highest ranked team from the MWC, Big East, MAC, C-USA and the Sun Belt will get an automatic bid to the big dance.
That can't happen as an independent, and with the new 50/50 money split in the Mountain West for teams achieving such a goal, that could mean as much as $10 million for any team that makes it to the football promised land.
BYU could even opt to become a football-only member and leave their other sports in the WCC if that is what they desired to do. With that action, it becomes much less of a gamble for the Cougars, and it would take very little to make the transition happen.
Boise State should do everything they can to help this process, but it certainly shouldn't stop with BYU.
San Diego State should return...
San Diego State will probably come back to the MWC now that the Broncos have returned, but if they are having second thoughts, perhaps the leadership of the conference along with BSU's influence could persuade them.
If a dynamic plan of expansion could be created along with the new creative financial structure, the Aztecs would certainly see the benefit of returning. If BYU and SDSU returned, that would bring the total of football-playing schools to 13 and basketball schools to 11, that is, if BYU decided to go football only. Hawaii is also football only.
Once those two schools are landed, it would be time to reach out to three others. Going to 16 teams in football would create a very stable conference. It would also make the Mountain West by far the best conference outside of the "Big Five" (SEC, Big 12, Big Ten, ACC and Pac-12).
Unlike the "Big Five" conferences, any decent school added to the MWC actually adds value and doesn't take from an already oversized pie. Also, with the new financial structure based on merit in the MWC, the competition level would only be encouraged to elevate.
Which other three schools should the MWC recruit?
Well, the first two are no-brainers. Houston and SMU would make excellent members of the conference.
Not only that, but both are in large television markets and would be excellent additions in every sport. They would both add value to a new television deal, and their football programs are respected.
The other big thing the MWC would do by adding these two schools is move the conference footprint solidly into Texas.
The third school isn't so easy to decide on. Tulsa and UTEP are certainly possibilities. However, there may be a sleeper out there. UTEP is located in El Paso, which is No. 98 when it comes to television media markets, which isn't that great. However, Tulsa sits at No. 61 on that same index.
North Texas is another possible choice. Currently a member of Sun Belt, the school is in Denton, Tex. which sits just outside of Dallas. However, even though the Dallas-Fort Worth area is the No. 5 television market in the nation, you have to wonder if the Mean Green would move the ratings needle in that saturated market. SMU is located there as well.
Texas State is another possible school, and it is just northeast of San Antonio, which is the No. 37 media market in the nation. The Bobcats are currently members of the WAC, but they will be joining the Sun Belt next season.
The last wild card is the University of Texas San Antonio. The Roadrunners have a lot going for them, and they are located in a very good media market, No. 37, as previously mentioned. They play in the Alamo Dome, which seats over 65,000 and is home of the Alamo Bowl.
UTSA would be an excellent addition to the MWC, and if Houston and SMU were added, it would give the conference three schools in the state of Texas.
It would be a very good conference...
If this all panned out, the conference could easily be split into two divisions, and it would be an excellent and stable group with huge growth potential.
Setting up North/South or even East/West division splits would allow the Texas schools to fit in better from a geographical standpoint and create an instant MWC recruiting ground in the Lone Star State.
Northern Division could include:
Boise State, Nevada, San Jose, Fresno State, Wyoming, Utah State, Colorado State and Air Force
Southern Division could include:
Hawaii, San Diego State, UNLV, BYU, New Mexico, SMU, Houston and UTSA
Or, the conference could go with an East/West split.
Western division could include:
Hawaii, San Diego State, Fresno State, San Jose, Nevada, UNLV, Boise State and Utah State
Eastern Division could include:
BYU, New Mexico, Colorado State, Air Force, Wyoming, SMU, Houston and UTSA
East/West seems the best way to divide up divisions in a scenario like this, but there may be other options as well.
Any way you slice it, a MWC with these members would have several benefits.
1. Media market value would be excellent with several top areas in the mix. Houston is in the No. 10 media market, Dallas No. 5, San Antonio No. 37, much of Utah and BYU's international audience, San Jose No. 6, Fresno No. 55, San Diego No. 28, Las Vegas No. 42, Albuquerque No. 44, Honolulu No. 72, along with Air Force and Boise State's unique following and local markets; the MWC would be sitting pretty.
2. The competition in football would be outstanding. Rivalries would be intriguing as well, and with a 16-team league, scheduling with variety could help everyone. A conference schedule that had division crossover games every season could help sell home game tickets and create intrigue.
3. The recruiting footprint would increase as well. The MWC would have three California schools, one in the north with San Jose, one in the Central Valley with Fresno State and one in Southern California with San Diego State. If this scenario works out, the conference would also have three schools in Texas. SMU in the Dallas area, Houston and San Antonio.
4. Excellent football teams with tradition gathered together could bring respect to the conference. Boise State, of course, has two BCS bowl game wins and a winning tradition, and BYU once won a national championship. SMU was once a mighty football school, and the commitment seems to be there to get them back to a level of excellence. Houston, Fresno State and Nevada have a decent level of respect, as do San Diego State and Air Force. Hawaii also played in a BCS bowl, but they need to do some work to get back to that level.
5. Up and coming schools are making waves. San Jose State and Utah State are both coming off excellent seasons, and their football programs seem committed to winning. New Mexico has recommitted to elevating its program, and Colorado State has as well. In fact, there is talk about building a new stadium for the Rams.
UNLV is in the process of building an amazing new stadium as well. It will be quite a place for UNLV home games, the Las Vegas Bowl, and it would be a fantastic place to have a conference championship game. However, so would the Alamo Bowl in rotation.
6. Basketball would be amazing as well. The MWC is currently one of the top six basketball conferences in the nation. If this kind of expansion was to happen, it would be even better.
UNLV, San Diego State, New Mexico, Nevada, Fresno State and Utah State all have excellent basketball programs. Boise State is starting to come around as well, and they have committed themselves to getting even better. Wyoming is playing great lately, as is Colorado State, and Houston and SMU would only make the conference even stronger.
7. Other sports would be excellent also. Go down the list and you will see that if this expansion was to happen, there would be several schools that have excellent sports teams beyond football. If BYU and Hawaii were football only, the remaining 14 schools would create quite an Olympic sports conference.
Overall, it could be special...
The Mountain West has another chance at building something special. Let's see if this time around they can make it happen.
Some might point back to the old WAC and its over-sized and over-stretched footprint and claim something like this has been tried and would no doubt fail. Well, that's where they would be wrong.
The new climate of college football actually makes a deal like this, not only feasible, but quite attractive. A MWC media deal with this kind of membership, structured divisions that help the Olympic sports, a wide recruiting footprint in two of the biggest pipeline states and the best remaining football programs outside of the "Big Five" coming together, is a recipe for success.
Even some of those "Big Five" conferences have seen the benefit of becoming larger and covering more geography. Expect that to continue, and if the MWC was smart, they would get ahead of the game this time.
Boise State and its leadership should certainly step up and help in anyway possible to help build their new-old conference into something that schools might one day be lining up to get into rather than waiting for any opportunity to depart.