Utah State, Hawaii Making Case for Mountain West Conference Invites
There is hope in Logan, however, that somehow the long-suffering Aggies will be next in line for the Mountain West Conference now that Texas Christian's departure has possibly opened another door.
The biggest question, of course, is if the MWC wants Utah State -- or any of the other desperate schools currently left behind in the WAC.
Knowing this may be USU's last chance, and taking advantage of an already-scheduled basketball game against Denver Wednesday night, several members of Utah State's administration traveled to Colorado a day or two before the game to meet with MWC commissioner Craig Thompson and try to pave a path for the Aggies to join other WAC schools such as Boise State, Fresno State and Nevada in the conference for the 2012 football season.
USU athletic director Scott Barnes did not return a request for an interview with FanHouse, but did address the issue with boosters at a luncheon earlier.
According to reports from the luncheon, Barnes said Utah State and the MWC have had ongoing discussions for months -- to the point Barnes jokingly said he was afraid of being accused of stalking the MWC.
Coincidentally, or not, Hawaii administrators, according to the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, are also in Colorado to discuss membership opportunities with the MWC.
Barnes, along with USU president Stanley Albrecht, helped orchestrate a stunning chain of events that nearly saw BYU leave the MWC for the WAC. Instead, the MWC caught wind of the project initiated by BYU -- unhappy with its revenue and exposure in the MWC -- and fired a preemptive strike that raided the WAC of two more schools (Fresno State and Nevada) with more schools in the crosshairs.
The MWC "will continue to analyze the landscape and chart our course in the context of ongoing changes. That includes conversations already underway with potential future members, as well as related discussions with our television and bowl partners," Thompson said after TCU accepted an invitation to the Big East. "We appreciate the many contributions TCU has made to the growth and development of the Mountain West over the past six years. We look forward to shaping the future of the Conference in the coming months."
Hawaii, having all but announced it was the next school to join the MWC, is the obvious first choice with a traditionally strong football program and is thought to be a football-only candidate, with other sports joining the Big West. Utah State's selling points include a strong basketball tradition, solid academics and a media market (although not the primary audience) that is key to the MWC and its television network.
After that, the scenarios are a little less clear and depend on how many schools the MWC wants to include:
9: With TCU leaving, the MWC will have a convenient nine schools in 2012. The WAC will retain its six remaining football schools and add Texas State and Texas-San Antonio while hoping no one leaves for C-USA or the Sun Belt.
10: If the MWC elects to be a 10-team conference, Hawaii is officially invited (perhaps as a football-only school) and the rest of the WAC is nervously left pondering its future. Hawaii is attractive not just for the sandy beaches and pineapple, but because MWC schools would have a potentially lucrative 13th football game every other year.
12: Why 12? Because it seems to the magic number for football conferences these days. Hawaii would be joined in the MWC by any number of newcomers. Utah State, obviously, wants to be one of them. So, too, do Idaho, New Mexico State, San Jose State and Louisiana Tech. Other possibilities include UTEP, SMU, Houston or Tulsa from C-USA. UTEP -- if the Miners want to leave C-USA -- may be the strongest candidate of those based on its previous membership in the WAC and traditional rivalry with New Mexico. A 12-team conference would be split and include a conference championship game. The problem, though, is the available football programs offer little in the way of football success over the past couple of decades and adding any of them would be simply a numbers game for the MWC.
After Hawaii jumped the gun a week or two ago in announcing it had a 'hand-shake agreement' to join the MWC, one conference president made it clear the MWC was looking several options.
"Hawaii is not the only school that we're interested in and have had informal conversations with," SDSU president Stephen Weber told the San Diego Union-Tribune. "It's the first one that's gone far enough that we're willing to literally authorize the commissioner to begin to talk seriously."
Weber also noted the MWC sees a 12-team conference as a strong possibility.
"There is certainly some interest in getting to 12 if we could and contemplating perhaps a divisional setup where you'd have two six-team divisions," Weber said. "But we're a long way from that. There's going to be a meeting in January. It's been scheduled for a long time, and we'll probably be making some advances in nailing this stuff down. ... We might be in a position to know where we are with Hawaii, but beyond that I think we've got to figure out if we want to go to 12, whether we're prepared to see that as part of our agenda, and if we are, we've got to decide who that 12th team would be."
One theory floated by a source at a WAC school is that Hawaii would be a football-only MWC member and the conference would then attempt to persuade BYU to rejoin the MWC for its other sports while remaining an independent in football, thereby granting the Cougars the flexibility it craved in regards to scheduling and broadcasting.
Even if the MWC stays at nine, the WAC has a tenuous future at best as a football conference. There have been rumblings that Hawaii may follow BYU to football independence and San Jose State is thought to be on shaky ground, considering a drop to the FCS level or simply discontinuing the program like other Cal State schools Long Beach State and Cal State-Fullerton did almost 20 years ago.
Schools like Utah State, which recently completed a highly-successful capitol campaign to fund campus building projects and are prepared to embark on another to upgrade athletics facilities, certainly hope the 12-team scenario happens.