Would The Mountain West Really Be Better Off Without San Jose State?
Another take on the big question about which nearly everyone in the Mountain West has an opinion.
Is there a case to be made or is the argument overblown?
Earlier this week, Nevada Sports Net writer Chris Murray posted a not-so-surprising statistic about what has often been the worst program in the Mountain West:
San Jose State has faced a lot of scrutiny from other parts of the conference for its inability to sustain any kind of success in the major sports, enough so that many have wondered aloud about whether commissioner Craig Thompson would consider ditching the Spartans permanently. Whether you’re ready for another take on whether that’s realistic or not, here it is.
The athletic department has shown itself to be invested in the sport that really drive interest…
Murray, who first made his case in August 2018, listed his skepticism about SJSU’s desire to build facilities in line with what others across the Mountain West have done. Fast forward to April, however, and it seems like the Spartans have made at least one significant step in that regard. In improving both the on-field and off-field experience of student-athletes and fans alike, they may have the foundation to improve upon the existing culture under Brent Brennan.
And if football is what makes everything else viable, as the argument usually goes, maybe that’s what creates a rising tide for all programs at some point.
…But it’s been plagued by more controversy than any other Mountain West school. And that means what exactly?
If you haven’t kept up with the work being done at the Spartan Daily recently, you’ll have missed that the administration at SJSU may have misused millions of dollars meant for scholarships and, subsequently, has faced questions about its ability to respond to other serious allegations like inequity of resources and, more grievously, sexual assault (it should be noted, too, that some of the initial investigations have received scrutiny in turn, notably from 247 Sports’s Andrew Pang; I’d encourage readers to gather as much context as possible to make their own determination about the allegations).
Combined with other headlines that have raised eyebrows in recent years — Murray mentioned the resignations of both former baseball head coach Jason Hawkins and basketball coach Dave Wojick — it’s enough to make you think that there’s a limit. The problem with believing that, though, ignores perhaps the most sobering truth about college athletics: There is no limit to what any program can get away with, no matter how much you win or lose.
You could look at Texas State, for example, and its good old-fashioned incompetence. You could look at Maryland, which has as many winning football seasons in the Big Ten as players who died at practice. You could look at Baylor or Michigan State or North Carolina or Oregon State or any other number of programs and find it very easy to take a cynical, realistic view of such controversies. On this alone, no one ever goes anywhere, but beyond that…
Every conference inevitably has something like a San Jose State.
If you’ve ever spent an autumn Saturday cracking any kind of joke about Rutgers football, you know what I’m talking about here. More seriously, SB Nation’s Bill Connelly spoke to this point in his preview of the Spartans back in April, noting simply that as the conference improved across the board last fall, “someone still [had] to lose conference games”. Boise State football and Nevada basketball don’t get to be at their level without a San Jose State.
Even the American Athletic Conference, with whom the Mountain West is often compared, has a reasonable SJSU facsimile or two. Take Tulane, for instance, another Group of 5 program in a major media market without much actual success of which to speak in the major sports. TU’s football team finished above .500 last fall, but they have just one more winning season than SJSU this century and own a 22-39 record (.361) since joining the AAC in 2014. Their men’s basketball team, meanwhile, has yet to post a winning record in five years within the conference and sports a .323 overall winning percentage.
The comparison falters somewhat when you examine women’s basketball and baseball, though perhaps it’s worth noting that both programs have seen their record decline for three straight years (from 23-12 to 14-17 in women’s basketball, and from 41-21 to 25-33 in baseball). Either way, you don’t see many AAC enthusiasts clamoring for the Green Wave to get the boot.
There are other schools that are in the same neighborhood, too. Miami of Ohio has experienced recent revivals on the diamond and with their women’s hoops program, but Redhawks football has had one winning season since 2005 and Redhawks men’s basketball hasn’t cracked .500 since 2008-09. Rice has built a sound women’s basketball program, but their historic baseball program has fallen on hard times while football and men’s basketball are perennial also-rans.
No such decision exists in isolation, either.
The problem with most of the arguments about ditching San Jose State comes down to the inability to determine the “and then what” of the solution. Would the Mountain West seek out another 12th member for football or remain at 11 with at least a more balanced 10-team basketball league to even things out? Advances to add Wichita State and Gonzaga for basketball went nowhere. BYU isn’t ever looking back, New Mexico State would bring strong basketball and baseball brands but haven’t been much better on the gridiron, UTEP has been a disaster on pretty much every major athletic front recently, and other options like Texas-San Antonio may not be as appealing as they would have been a year or two ago.
And you can snark all you want about the sports that may not generate as many headlines, but what would removing SJSU from the Mountain West do for the women’s soccer team, which has been an unqualified success? What would it do for the athletes in softball and tennis, whose collegiate experience has benefited from brand-new facilities in the past two years?
Perhaps most importantly, who wants to be the person that looks a student-athlete in the eye, especially the current female athletes at SJSU who have already spoken to feeling marginalized inside their own institution just this week, and says “yes, and let’s marginalize you some more”? It’s one thing to talk about revenues and expenses and winning with regards to one or two parts of the puzzle, but it’s a stretch to draw such dramatic conclusions from what is, in the grand scheme of things, a fairly small stretch of time.
Will it be an uphill battle to turn things around at San Jose State? Absolutely. The reality is, though, that no one else really has a choice but to wait and see if it actually happens.