Conference Realignment Is No Longer Pending; It’s Here
How will the Mountain West react?
Time to be aggressive, Craig Thompson
The Mountain West Conference has so far avoided any damage. However, with realignment still brewing, it is becoming clear that the Mountain West is not immune to the repercussions of realignment. Time is running out fast for the conference, and it needs to decide on a plan of action quickly.
The Mountain West could do nothing. It’s a perfectly fine and competitive conference. But as Pat Riley once said, “complacency is the last hurdle standing between any team and its potential greatness.”
If the Mountain West decides to stay put, it would likely survive, but it might not go unscathed.
Boise State and San Diego State are both ready and looking for a conference upgrade, but both seem to have missed out on this round of invites. That doesn’t mean they will stay in the conference forever.
The Mountain West contract is set to expire in 2024, so even if Boise State and SDSU stay, they will probably plan on leaving at that time. The Big 12 has already expressed interest in Boise State, so the Broncos might wait until 2024 and try to get in. This might benefit the Mountain West in the short term because it might not make sense to move conferences now if a Big 12 invite is a few years away, but counting on that is a recipe for disaster. It’s safe to assume that if a better opportunity appears, most Mountain West schools would probably take it.
While trying to weather the storm and stay intact is an option, it’s not a very good one. The Mountain West is poised to either get a lot better or a lot worse in the coming months and years, and schools in Mountain West need to be aggressive to make sure it’s the former rather than the latter. When the Big 12 survived, it did so by inviting BYU, Cincinnati, Houston, and UCF. By doing so, it only put another conference on the hot seat; the American Athletic Conference. Now, in order to survive, the American needs to do the same thing to another conference.
The most vulnerable targets? The Mountain West and Conference USA. If the Mountain West, or the teams within, don’t take action to secure their future, they could be left on the wrong side of realignment. This could mean the conference as a whole fortifies itself, or if the conference fails to do so, teams will need to act individually. When teams are forced to act individually to protect themselves is when realignment gets chaotic.
The chance to create a new conference is most likely out of the picture. Most of the schools that would have been available have already settled into a conference, the displaced Big 12 schools, Cincinnati, Houston, UCF, and a school very familiar with starting new conferences, BYU. With those schools, particularly BYU, now settled, there is no catalyst to create a new conference. If it were to happen, that new conference, would feature mostly Mountain West teams anyway, so, in that case, conference formation would make less sense than expansion.
Programs need to remain open to conference formation, however. Just because it isn’t logistical now doesn’t mean it won’t be later. Conference realignment periods often get more complicated as they unfold, and there is likely another realignment just a few years away. So, depending on future events, premier programs such as Boise State, Colorado State, Fresno State, San Diego State, Nevada, and Utah State should remain prepared and ready to step away from the conference and start fresh. It may not be necessary, but programs need to be prepared.
Expansion is the most viable scenario. The Mountain West currently sits at 11 members, with Hawaii as a football-only member adding a 12th team to the gridiron.
As it is currently constructed, the Mountain West is a solid conference with regional relevance. In football, top programs are consistently among the top in the nation, and in basketball, the Mountain West is one of the most dominant group of five conferences and is perennially a multi-bid league. The Mountain West should be an attractive landing place for high-level mid-major programs that are displaced or looking for a change.