A Dream Mountain West Expansion Scenario
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Time to add some quality teams to the Mountain West
Conference realignment is always a huge topic when discussing college sports. Most predictions for the next major shifts in the landscape of college athletics revolve around the Big 12 television grant of rights 2025 expiration. There are many teams outside of the Power 5 who are looking for stability.
For Mountain West fans, the big name to get is BYU. The Cougars administration seems to be enjoying life as a football independent but there are many questions they will need to answer in the upcoming years. Will access to a New Years 6 bowl eventually override the television money they are currently receiving? Will the fanbase accept mediocre seasons where they get to play great teams or will the fanbase want the opportunity to compete for championships again?
Schools like New Mexico State and Grand Canyon will be looking to find security outside of the WAC, a conference that will soon see Cal-State Bakersfield leave to the Big West.
Then there is the Mountain West. A once proud conference that consistently fielded multiple top 25 football programs and received multiple bids to the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament is currently struggling to provide a single top 25 football program and has turned into a one-bid basketball conference.
Step 1: Invite Gonzaga and St. Mary’s for Olympic Sports
Inviting Gonzaga and St. Mary’s will increase the profile of the Mountain West Conference by adding 2 teams that are relevant in men’s basketball. With the MW sponsoring D1 football, they would be able to offer more money to a school than the West Coast Conference. The 2 WCC schools might need extra convincing to leave their conference and the MW could offer that financially.
Adding these 2 schools also puts more pressure on BYU. All realignment decisions have a football or geographical component. Forcing BYU into a conference where their peers include Pepperdine, Santa Clara, and Portland will make them less satisfied with the WCC.
This move the conference to 13 basketball members and 12 football members
Step 2: Offer BYU an invitation to the MW and privately inform them that MW institutions will no longer schedule them for any sports unless they accept the offer
BYU needs teams to play. They are able to stack the non-conference portion of their football schedule with Power 5 programs but they need the MW to fill out the rest of their schedule. Respectfully (privately) informing them that MW programs will no longer schedule them unless they accept an invitation to the conference will back BYU into a corner.
BYU is a prideful institution and holds a football tradition that many other schools simply do not have. However, they are not the Notre Dame of the West. There is only one Notre Dame. BYU is not in a position of leverage. The Cougars have a long history of winning and winning frequently, how long will that fan base accept mediocrity with no chance for meaningful championships? With the Mountain West poaching the only good programs they had in the WCC and realizing that any regular season loss will doom their football season, how long would they continue to hold out?
When BYU says yes, there are now 13 football programs and 14 basketball programs.
Step 3: Get New Mexico State and Grand Canyon University for Olympic Sports
With the addition of BYU, the conference will need one more member for football. There are not a lot of options out there but there is a school in Las Cruces that is desperate for a home. NMSU can provide the 14th member for football. Their program appears to be on the up and up but if they fall back to where they have historically been, they provide a “San Jose State effect” for the Mountain Division. They bring a great basketball program that would instantly elevate the depth in the conference.
GCU is a risky proposition. They bring a major market, Phoenix, into the conference and they have a massive student body. They were recently highlighted by ESPN where their incredible facilities and their attempt to transition into non-profit status were discussed. How will the program and institution fair if/when they obtain non-profit status?
In the end, they provide a 16th basketball squad.
How does the conference look when everything shakes out?
Mountain West football will see very little change. The conference could move to 9 conference games which would allow better scheduling for all members, except Air Force. Boise State would probably move to the West division with many of their former WAC foes and would strengthen that side of the conference.
|Air Force||Boise State|
|New Mexico State||San Diego State|
|Utah State||San Jose State|
Sixteen members for basketball looks very scary at first but it’s not so bad when you break down what it could potentially look like. In a geographical-based quadrant system, travel partners could be reinstated with every team playing each other once and home and away series against the 3 other members in your quadrant for a total of 18 games. A rivalry week could also be promoted with this setup. Quadrants could be regional (my preference), or they could be determined at the beginning of each season based on preseason expectations (would eliminate travel partners).
|Boise State||UNLV||Utah State||Grand Canyon|
|St. Mary’s||Fresno State||Wyoming||New Mexico|
|San Jose State||San Diego State||Colorado State||New Mexico State|
Four Possible Schedules for 2019-20 Season
|12/28||@Boise State||UNLV||@Utah State||Grand Canyon|
|1/2||Nevada||@ Gonzaga||Air Force||@BYU|
|1/4||UNLV||@Boise State||Grand Canyon||@Utah State|
|1/9||@Fresno State||St. Mary’s||@UNM||Wyoming|
|1/18||Grand Canyon||@Utah State||UNLV||@Boise State|
|1/23||@St. Mary’s||Fresno State||@Wyoming||UNM|
|2/1||Boise State||@UNLV||Utah State||@GrandCanyon|
|2/6||@UNM||Wyoming||@Fresno State||St. Mary’s|
|2/13||@Wyoming||@UNM||St. Mary’s||Fresno St|
|2/22||Utah State||Grand Canyon||@Boise State||@UNLV|
|2/27||St. Mary’s||@Fresno State||Wyoming||@UNM|
The following season, they would keep their home and away series within their pod but would swap the location of the other 12 games i.e. if they were in the Pacific Pod and had the Gonzaga/Boise road trip in Year 1, they would get those teams at home in Year 2.
This is far from a perfect or final schedule, but it gives an idea of what the schedule could look like with travel partners and keeping geographic rivals.
For the conference tournament, it would look a lot like the ACC tournament. The top 4 teams receive a double bye and go directly to the quarterfinals. Seeds 5-8 receive a single bye and play the winners of the 9-16 first round games.
Why teams would accept invitations to the conference
Gonzaga and St. Mary’s
These two schools would find a better opportunity to find quality wins in a deeper conference. They would also solidify the MW as the 2nd best conference in the region
They would have access to more money by joining a conference that sponsors football
Access to the Group of 5 at-large football bid
Opportunity to win championships
Ease in scheduling
New Mexico State and Grand Canyon
Obviously, to make this plan work, there would need to be incredible vision by Commissioner Thompson to convince the current members to sacrifice a little more than they probably want at the beginning for the potential of what the conference could grow into. There would also need to be concessions given to BYU and likely Gonzaga but those would likely pay off in the media coverage the conference would receive in all sports and the money earned from being a multi-bid league in the NCAA tournament.
The Mountain West would have leverage in their next TV contract by having a football conference with the top two Group of 5 teams (Boise State and BYU) and nine conference games. Basketball-wise, the major television networks wouldn’t have to invest in both the MW and the WCC because the MW would undoubtedly become the second-best conference in the region and would significantly close the gap with the PAC-12.