A 16 Team Mountain West? Maybe?
What would a 16-team Mountain West look like
There might be take two on a 16-team Western conference
While at the Mountain West basketball tournament in Las Vegas, I was chatting with a friend who covers Utah State and the topic of conference realignment came up as the New Mexico vs. Utah State game was in a blowout.
This person primarily covers BYU but also Utah Valley and the Aggies from time to time.
We talked about what the Mountain West might look like if they add a few teams, and we joked about a 16-team Mountain West. This was as a joke since this was tried before with the 16-team WAC, the first mega-conference, with a quadrant system which stretched from Honolulu to Houston.
That eventually led to the formation of the Mountain West with eight schools meeting at the Denver airport to form the new league.
Well, that friend mentioned that why not form another 16-team Western league, and jokingly then forecasted a breakup of that large league for a new smaller league out West.
Well… the first part could be on its way to happening.
New Mexico State’s chancellor, Garrey Carruthers, talked about the future of the WAC and Mountain West while in Las Vegas.
While at the WAC Basketball Tournament, I met with the Presidents and Athletic Directors of the WAC schools to discuss business as well as the challenges facing the Conference regarding membership. The WAC is initiating an aggressive membership campaign. Commissioner Jeff Hurd said “something was going to happen and happen soon” regarding conference alignments and realignments. One rumor was the Mountain West would become a 16-member conference with two-8 member divisions.
NMSU could come into play as a new member, along with UTEP. Another uncertainty facing athletics is the ongoing investigation of NCAA basketball violations. There is also a special committee analyzing the “transfer” issue in collegiate basketball.
When presidents start talking that is when things get really serious. The WAC is already in trouble with a league that has teams that stretch from Seattle to Texas and Chicago.
Plus, there is the fact that Cal State Bakersfield is leaving in 2020, oh did we mention the WAC has just eight current members. So, it would make sense for the WAC to look at membership options.
There are not many schools for the WAC to seriously consider. Maybe try to shore up some geography issues with Chicago State and UT Rio Grande Valley.
What we know about Mountain West’s realignment plans.
Gonzaga is the only school to be publicly mentioned on the record, and both sides have acknowledged this.
This move could happen as early as next year. There are five other schools which commissioner Craig Thompson has spoken to and those are not known.
What we do know is that BYU is not one of those schools but according to those who cover the school closely is that the Cougars very much would like to be in a league with Gonzaga. However, BYU would like to be in a position of power and not follow Gonzaga to another league and with that conference being the Mountain West only makes that more complicated.
The big question is who are the other five schools? Also, how is a 16-team Mountain West going to look, and is this football or basketball-focused?
The other five schools likely are Saint Mary’s, Grand Canyon, UTEP, New Mexico State and Rice has been getting a lot of mention for some reason.
Of those schools three play football but Grand Canyon has some cash to down the road start a program.
This is where a 16-team league is tricky. Hawaii is in for football only to give the Mountain West 12 teams, and currently, there are just 11 basketball members.
It also depends on what the Mountain West wants with the future of basketball or football. While media rights money comes mostly from football, but basketball brings in money, possibly more, from NCAA Tournament credits which garner in $1.8 million per game this year than TV rights deals for non-power leagues.
What would a 16-team Mountain West look like?
There a few ways to look at this especially with a direct mention of a pair of eight-team divisions, and football only has that but not basketball.
16-team Mountain West football league
This would require four more teams. The likely candidates would start with UTEP and New Mexico State. Geography sort of plays an issue but North Dakota State is a solid option and of course BYU, but the money for the Cougars is still much more than what the Mountain West can provide.
If we are to keep with some semblance of travel partners then the Mountain West should grab a pair of Texas schools and while Rice was mentioned by a few people this seems like a long shot since academics are Stanford-esque and the Owls have not been consistently good at football, ever.
What makes more sense would be UTSA and North Texas. Both have some recent success in football and are just 300 miles apart.
To round out to get to 16 in hoops the final piece is Gonzaga.
16-team Mountain West basketball league
This needs two parts and that is adding two schools that play football because adding five basketball-only schools is not going to be easy.
New Mexico State and UTEP again are an easy choice, that gives the Mountain West 13 basketball schools. The other three also are fairly easy to figure out. The top options are Gonzaga, BYU and then Grand Canyon slightly over Saint Mary’s.
This does two things: First, there are 16 members for basketball and 14 for football.
Getting BYU adds the potential for another football team and GCU over Saint Mary’s is for the same reasoning. The Lopes have money and have toyed with the idea of adding a football team. That takes years to build and that would give time for BYU to keep chugging along as an independent or make a decision to change leagues and shuffle around contracts.
If getting to 16 was only on the basketball side it is still not difficult. Go with Gonzaga, New Mexico State, BYU, Grand Canyon and Saint Mary’s.
To tie this up, look for a new Western base league to break off and form in 2025 because history always repeats itself.