The MW does come with challenges, however. Having Hawaii in the conference could reduce appeal because travel to Honolulu is expensive and burdensome. Expanding east would be difficult for the Mountain West because of if that. Recent realignment moves have shown that geographic location matters less than ever, but Hawaii might be the one exception to that.
Ideally, the Mountain West would move away from affiliate members and create a more powerful conference full of high-level full members, but that’s not possible right now. The Mountain West cannot afford to be overly selective if it decides to expand. The conference needs to prepare to invite and accept any high mid-major program that could benefit the conference, and there are plenty of schools that the Mountain West could pursue that could do just that.
This jives with what I heard earlier today….the MWC schools most likely, *right now* to bolt for the AAC aren't Boise and SDSU….but Colorado State and Air Force.https://t.co/ZokwmuTkIa pic.twitter.com/tABRJo58bZ
— Matt Brown (@MattBrownEP) September 18, 2021
Most of the newly displaced AAC teams could be available. But not for long. The AAC plans to replace the three teams it lost and possibly expand beyond that. If it does, the Mountain West will undoubtedly lose programs. The Mountain West needs to take over the AAC before the reverse happens.
The teams that the Mountain West needs to pursue are the Gonzaga Bulldogs and Wichita State Shockers for non-football sports only, and the Memphis Tigers and SMU Mustangs for all sports. Each of these teams has a strong, positive, and nationally recognized brand and all have achieved recent success in their respective conferences. If the Mountain West could land all these teams, it would bring the number of full members to 14. The conference would then have 15 for football and 17 for basketball. This would be excellent for short and mid-term success and set up the entire conference and individual teams for long-term success.
Two other schools that could add value are the Saint Mary’s Gaels for non-football and the UAB Blazers for all sports. These schools shouldn’t be the top priority for the Mountain West, but if needed, could add an edge.
Gonzaga is a private Christian school without a notable research reputation and doesn’t have a football team. This has made it an unattractive candidate for other major conferences like the PAC-12, which exclusively houses RI research universities, includes only two private schools, and boasts a powerful football presence. The Mountain West has no such membership requirements. In fact, one of the founding institutions was a private Christian university. The Mountain West doesn’t currently have any non-football schools, but the value Gonzaga would add to the conference is undeniable and justifies an excuse to that trend. Currently, in the West Coast Conference, Gonzaga is one of the premier basketball programs in the country and is regularly ranked in the top five. Gonzaga is located in Spokane, Washington, and would help solidify the Mountain West, which currently does not have a team in the pacific northwest states, to maintain prominence in the west.
Wichita State is another non-football program that could add significant value to the Mountain West’s competitive basketball league. Even without football, Wichita State has become a midwest powerhouse due to its success in basketball. Wichita State, located in Wichita, Kansas, would be a move east for the Mountain West but would provide exposure to a market in the midwest that the conference is currently lacking. Kansas borders Colorado, home of two Mountain West teams as well as conference headquarters, so the geographic distance is not insurmountable. Wichita State, currently of the AAC, is another school that gets overlooked due to its lack of a football program, but the Mountain West needs to look past that and see the basketball and brand value the Shockers could add.
Memphis is a bit far geographically but would add a mid-major powerhouse. Success in football and basketball for the Tigers has made them an attractive program, and they just missed this round of power five expansion. Memphis also adds a market in the south, which is a gold mine of football talent. It is also a relatively large market for the conference. Memphis would be among the more populous cities in the conference, as only San Diego and San Jose have a larger population. Currently, one of the top remaining AAC schools, Memphis, along with Boise State, has already been targeted by the Big 12 if it expands again. The Tigers have a great program that could bolster the Mountain West.
SMU is another one of the top remaining schools in the AAC. Located in the Dallas-Fort Worth metropolis, SMU addresses a need in the Mountain West that has not been fulfilled since 2012; having a team in Texas. In the west, Football and Texas are inseparable. Getting back into Texas needs to be a priority for the Mountain West and should have been since the departure of TCU. The Mustangs could fill that market, providing excellent exposure and recruiting and adding a competitive program. SMU’s basketball program, in particular, is highly touted and would fit in well in the Mountain West.
Saint Mary’s is a small private school, but it is located in the Bay Area, which is a great market and makes geographic sense. The Mountain West already has Fresno State and San Jose State in Northern California, but adding Saint Mary’s could be beneficial, especially basketball, an area in which the Mountain West excels.
UAB is a bit of a stretch geographically. Located in Birmingham, Alabama, UAB is about 1,800 miles from San Jose, California. However, location, although burdensome, is precisely what makes UAB so appealing. Alabama is a hot spot for football. Both talented players and passionate fans are in abundance there. The Mountain West could benefit significantly from being able to recruit from and market to Alabama. Currently, in CUSA, UAB is a team on the rise. With a competitive football team playing in a brand-new area, UAB could add more than a geographic advantage to the MW.
However, expansion for expansion’s sake is not a good solution. While the Mountain West does need to expand, it needs to be careful to extend upwards, not downwards, so as to not upset its top teams. Some teams could be available that might do more harm than good. In expanding, the Mountain West needs to be careful not to offend its keynote members. Boise State, in particular, is a bonafide power five-level program; and they know it. By adding low-level teams, the conference runs the risk of offending the Broncos program and forcing them out early.
The Mountain West needs to act fast if it wants to survive. Failing to immediately fortify the conference now could lead to it coming crumbling down. If the Mountain West does not add, it will be subtracted from. The AAC is poised and ready to raid the conference, and if it does, the future of the conference is unclear beyond speculation.