Could the Mountain West be losing members in the near future?
Are San Jose State and/or Hawaii on the hot seat?
Is it possible that the Mountain West will ask a member or two to leave?
At football media days, the most common question any conference commissioner encounters is what the status of the league is in regards to membership. Many commissioners brush it off and describe how their conference is as strong as it has ever been and they are not looking to change their current structure. Mountain West Commissioner Craig Thompson is not your average administrator.
In a piece by Chris Vannini with The Athletic, Vannini asks Thompson why he’s so confident in the stability of the MW in which Thompson basically responds that there is no one left geographically besides BYU and New Mexico State and that the more likely scenario would be contraction within the conference. (Their entire series on realignment is fantastic and I would highly recommend subscribing to their site).
”We’ve been through it. We’ve had 15 football-playing institutions. The market will dictate, in the west, there’s BYU and New Mexico State that are independent. I don’t want to speak in hypotheticals, but more probable would be contraction,” Thompson said. ‘
‘What are the other options? Go to another FBS conference? Geographically, there are 26 FBS-playing schools; 12 Pac-12, 12 Mountain West, BYU and New Mexico State west of Denver.”
Basically, Thompson said there is nowhere else to go.
Did he really say that?
Contraction within the conference? I’m sure that is a great sign of confidence for the programs at San Jose State and Hawaii. The great thing about Thompson is that he is pretty transparent and he doesn’t usually say things that don’t have some kind of preexisting background (i.e. Gonzaga to MW).
In fact, in an era when commissioners say the opposite and stress how happy everyone is when it isn’t necessarily true, it could be argued that he says too much and overplays his hand (i.e. Gonzaga to MW).
Does the conference need San Jose State?
I agree that every conference needs someone to finish last but the Mountain West already had the UNLV and UNM football programs and the Air Force basketball program (minus mid-2000s) to serve as bottom dwellers.
Is it fair to the athletes and fans at SJSU, NO! Unfortunately, the business of college athletics couldn’t care less.
What would the conference look like without San Jose State and Hawaii?
The original MW from the late 90’s was an 8 team league that was created to renew rivalries and traditions that were impacted by the 16 team WAC. The original gang (Air Force, BYU, Colorado State, New Mexico, San Diego State, UNLV, Utah, and Wyoming and later TCU) were able to participate in a league where they could play each other every football season and ensure 2 matchups with every team during basketball season.
Through this setup, rivalries began to emerge and reemerge through the frequent competition (BYU-TCU). With the current alignment of the conference, schools have a 2 on-2 off schedule with programs in the opposite division in football and the 11 member setup for basketball with an 18 team schedule causes a school to have 2 opponents they only see one time a season. For Wyoming, that has caused them to miss out on games against traditional rivals New Mexico and Air Force.
In a 10 team Mountain West (Air Force, Boise State, Colorado State, Fresno State, Nevada, New Mexico, San Diego State, UNLV, Utah State, and Wyoming), the conference could return to it’s intended mission of creating and reigniting regional rivalries. The conference could move to a 9 game league schedule with non conference games against a P5, G5, and FCS school if they choose. In basketball, a 10 team conference would allow home and away games against every member in the current 18 game schedule.
What happens to SJSU, Hawaii, and a Conference Championship Game in Football
As the Big 12 has shown, it’s possible to have a conference championship game with a 10 school conference if the conference chose to continue in that path. Hawaii could be given a scheduling agreement with the MW to make the blow less painful for them while San Jose State would enter into a world that UConn and New Mexico State reside.
Some football matchups missed because of expanded conference
Boise State vs San Diego State
In 2017, Boise State traveled to San Diego to take on the Aztecs in their first game as an underdog in a conference game for the first time in an eternity. The Broncos thrashed the #19 Aztecs 31-14. In the return matchup in 2018, the Aztecs returned to Boise and snuck out with a 19-13 victory. Unless they meet in a conference championship, we won’t see this one again until 2021.
Boise State vs Fresno State
The teams have played 4 times over the last 2 seasons going 1-1 in regular season matchups and 1-1 in conference championship games. Over the last 4 games the average score is Fresno State 19.5- Boise State 18.5. With the bloated conference, these 2 schools won’t match up for the Milk Can until 2021.
Air Force vs Nevada and UNLV
2017 saw Air Force sneak by with a 34-30 win over UNLV and a 45-42 win over Nevada. In 2018, Nevada was able to get revenge with a 28-25 victory while UNLV came up a little short in a 41-35 loss. With the rotating schedule, Air Force won’t see these schools until 2021.
Wyoming vs San Diego State
In 2016, the Cowboys won the regular season matchup 34-33 while the Aztecs traveled back to Laramie 2 weeks later and won 27-24 in the rematch for the Mountain West title. Wyoming and San Diego State won’t meet again until Oct. 12 in San Diego.
Annual Match-ups Matter
With a 10 team league, the conference wouldn’t need to make up trophy games (Bridger’s Rifle Utah State and Wyoming) because every game would eventually become a rivalry over time (Air Force and Wyoming). I would hate to see the student athletes at SJSU left at a school without a home but the impact that the frequency in the competition would have with the remaining members would be an immeasurable gain for all conference members. For a school like Hawaii, independence with an agreement to play a set amount of MW schools could be more beneficial than their current arrangement.
Where there’s smoke…
Fans across the conference have been very vocal on their disapproval of SJSU and to a lesser extent Hawaii. A commissioner taking an untraditional stance and admitting that contraction would be more likely than expansion when presented with a question where the subject could have been totally avoided makes you wonder. Has the conference already had discussions about removing an existing programs?