Posted on: November 29, 2010 2:11 pm

TCU to Big East, What's Next for MWC?

It has been an up and down summer and fall for Craig Thompson and the Mountain West Conference.

The summer began with rumors of Boise State joining the MWC, bringing the conference to 10 members (including Utah, BYU, TCU and Boise) and a near guarantee of BCS-AQ status. 

Almost immediately, things began to fall apart. First, Utah announced its move to the Pac-10 along with Colorado.

As the 2010 academic season neared, rumors began to surface that the WAC was attempting to get BYU and several other MWC schools to "return home" and leave the Mountain West.

To his credit, Thompson acted swiftly, offering bids to WAC members Nevada, Fresno State and Utah State (Nevada and Fresno ended up accepting).

Thompson's best efforts couldn't keep Brigham Young, happy though. The Cougars left the MWC for football independence and placed its basketball and non-revenue sports in the West Coast Conference.

It appeared that things would slow down as the school year began. However, the Big East voted to consider expansion to try to fortify itself against raids (and keep its BCS-AQ status) by adding two to four football-playing members.

TCU and the conference seemed like a match made in reactionary heaven. At the time, it appeared TCU would miss out on a BCS bowl in spite of its undefeated record and top five ranking. Membership in the Big East would ensure that a situation like that would never happen again.

By adding TCU (one of the country's most talked-about football programs), the Big East would regain some football credibility lost when Miami (FL), Virginia Tech and Boston College departed for the ACC.

Again, Thompson made a swift and wise decision. Hawaii was added (as a football-only member) to the (then) 10-team MWC, and the conference made it clear they were looking at options for team 12. Prognosticators (myself included) began considering and debating the merits of about a dozen programs. SMU, Houston, UTEP, Utah State, Tulsa and Montana were some of the most common names.

This morning, the game changed again. Multiple news sources are reporting that TCU was offered (and accepted) an all-sport bid to the Big East. It will likely be joined by either one or three more teams before this round of expansion is over.

Popular Big East expansion candidates now include (in no particular order) Central Florida, Memphis, Houston and East Carolina.

The Mountain West is now left with three options moving forward.


1. Go Forward with 10 Members

While in the Mountain West, TCU was a significant geographic outlier, over 500 miles form any of its fellow MWC members. By standing pat, the conference can rein in its geographic footprint and avoid some of the problems that plagued the 16-team WAC.

This is certainly a choice that the Mountain West would be wise to consider. However there are too many issues.

For starters, when recruiting the four WAC schools (Boise, Fresno, Nevada and Hawaii), I'm certain that increased competition and exposure were a big part of the conference's pitch. To abandon that now would serve as a sort of slap in the face to the MWC's newest members.

Though a BCS-AQ bid is pretty much out of the question, Craig Thompson owes it to his membership to at least explore adding two more schools and a conference championship game.

If this is the direction the MWC chooses to go, we may finally see a slowdown in conference expansion talks. If Thompson continues to expand, things will only get more convoluted.


2. Add Two Members from Outside Texas

For those of you that don't know much about the WAC's 16-team setup, geography ranging from Houston, TX to Idaho and Hawaii was one of the biggest reasons for the conference's failure. Because of this, I think the Mountain West should be hesitant to become a league that covers the exact same footprint as the old WAC.

If the conference chooses to expand, Craig Thompson must consider remaining in its current geographic footprint (read: without Texas/Oklahoma schools).

If the conference chooses to go this route, there are five programs that will get consideration: Utah State, New Mexico State, San Jose State, Idaho and Montana. If the Mountain West chooses to go this route, we can officially say goodbye to the WAC.

Up to this point, conference expansion has been fueled by two key factors: football success and media market size. Utah State would return the conference to TV sets in Utah (lost with the defections of BYU and Utah).

Montana (an FCS powerhouse) would add some football credibility. Montana has already indicated that it isn't particularly interested in moving its football program to the FBS.

Overall, the MWC doesn't add much in either of the two key areas.

Keep in mind that the four WAC defectors came to the MWC for increased football competition and exposure. Adding weak football programs would stand in direct contrast to the promises/assurances that were either made by Craig Thompson or assumed by the four schools.

If this is the direction, my money is on Utah State and New Mexico State as well as adding a non-football playing complement to Hawaii (such as Gonzaga). Though not adding much in terms of football power, this move would place firmly in the MWC in the top tier of "mid-major" basketball conferences. To my sensibilities, this seems like the most unlikely option.


3. Add Two Members from Texas/Oklahoma

Losing TCU caused two major issues. The first is the loss of the pipeline to Texas's vast media and recruiting resources.

It also marked the loss of the MWC's only private school.  This is important because a conference with a private school as a member does not have to make as much of its financial information public as a conference with all public schools. This is why the SEC has held on to Vanderbilt, the Big 12 kept Baylor and the Big Ten still has Northwestern.

Adding Texas/Oklahoma schools is the only way for the MWC to fully absorb the blow of a TCU defection.

To this point, both options I have presented leave the MWC with either 10 or 12 public schools. Electing to maintain its presence in the Texas and/or Oklahoma allows the MWC to consider private universities like SMU, Tulsa and Rice. If the Mountain West decides to go to 12 members, it will almost certainly include one of these three private universities for the aforementioned reasons. 

Though a solid football program, Tulsa would be an extreme geographic outlier (650-plus miles away from any current MWC school). Rice, on the other hand, has neither geography nor football success on its side. Rice is a last resort option.

Due to its location in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex and recent football success (under coaching guru June Jones and the Run-and-Shoot offense), SMU seems to be the most likely candidate to replace TCU. Winning the C-USA championship next week (against Big East candidate Central Florida) would go a long way to securing an MWC bid.

If you assume SMU will be school No. 11, the search now begins for a 12th and final member. The school chosen will need to serve as a travel partner and geographic rival to SMU. Doing that would hopefully prevent SMU from making a TCU-like defection five years down the road. Aforementioned Tulsa deserves consideration, as do public schools Houston and UTEP.

UTEP fits very well in the MWC geography and has a long history with all of the conference's schools (from their time in the WAC). It has a ready-made rivalry with New Mexico as well as SMU. UTEP brings a credible basketball program and an underrated media market (El Paso). Though not as successful, the UTEP football team outdraws Houston by nearly 15,000 fans per game.

On the other side of the Texas coin is Houston. The Houston program has experienced a renaissance under head coach Mike Sumlin and QB Case Keenum. The Cougars have beaten multiple top-25 teams recently. It also brings a solid basketball program (anyone remember Phi Slama Jamma?) and the nation's fourth-largest media market.

However, UH has always had trouble competing with Texas A&M and Texas for relevance in the Houston market. TV ratings and attendance have been painfully low for UH, especially given its market and recent success.

Also, Keenum will graduate before Houston can join the MWC, and Sumlin may be leaving sooner than later for a higher-profile job. There is no guarantee that Houston will be able to maintain its current success without Keenum and Sumlin.

Lastly, Houston is in consideration for Big East membership as a geographic rival and travel partner for TCU.

This is the most likely case in my book. SMU is my top choice for private school membership (followed by Tulsa, then Rice) with Houston as the leading candidate as school No. 12 (UTEP is a close second with Tulsa as option No. 3). The MWC stands to lose too much if it abandons the Dallas market and doesn't have a private school as a member.



As far as I can see, adding two Texas/Oklahoma schools (including a private school) is in the best interest of the MWC. Standing pat with 10 members is a close second. Expanding but not including any private schools or Texas schools makes no sense.

Posted on: November 19, 2010 3:10 pm
Edited on: November 19, 2010 3:12 pm

Hawaii to join Mountain West, What Move is Next?

Overnight, news began to break that the University of Hawaii will be moving from the WAC to the Mountain West for football and the Big West for basketball and non-revenue sports.  The addition of Hawaii pushes the Mountain West to a total of 11 teams.  To my sensibilities, this indicates that at least one more move will occur between now and the start of the 2012-13 academic year.  Either TCU will leave for the Big East (or Big XII) and the MWC will stand pat with 10 teams, the Mountain West will add one school to bring the league to an even 12 and add a conference championship game, or TCU will leave and the MWC will replace the Frogs with two teams.  Here are some of the possible moves, and my take on how likely they are.

TCU Joins the Big East

The popular rumor over the last several weeks has TCU taking its football program (and possibly entire athletic department) to the Big East in an attempt to increase the football relevance of both parties.  The short-term benefits for both parties are pretty obvious.  The Big East gains some of the football credibility that it lost in recent years and TCU gets a path to the BCS (and national championship) that many perceive as easier. 

The Big East intends to add at least two teams in the near future.  TCU and Central Florida are the current favorites, followed by East Carolina, Villanova, Temple, Memphis, and others in no particular order.  Currently, the Big East wants to add these schools as football only members, but the schools are holding out for full membership.  Should TCU join as a football-only member, it would likely move all other sports to the Missouri Valley conference as the MWC has indicated it won’t allow member schools to maintain membership without a football program. 

I think that in the end, TCU will choose the MWC over the Big East.  Geographically, the MWC is a better fit and TCU has a history with those schools that it doesn’t have with the Big East.  Over the long run, I feel that the prospects for the MWC as a football conference are greater than those of the Big East.

TCU Joins the Big XII

This is a move that makes a whole lot more sense than a move to the Big East.  If the Big XII is to survive over the long run, it will need to return to a 12-team, 2-division format.  In my book, TCU is on the short list of best options for Big XII expansion (along with Memphis, Houston, and BYU).   TCU provides another strong football program to bolster the conference.  It also adds another baseball power to rival Texas for conference supremacy. 

However, there are many negatives that get in the way of TCU joining the Big XII.  There are still many left over bad feelings from the breakup of the old SWC.  Also, TCU may add respect for the Big XII in football and baseball, but it detracts from Big XII basketball (currently the conference’s strongest sport).  Houston, BYU, and Memphis are all stronger basketball options.  Lastly, the Big XII already has the Dallas-Fort Worth Media Market well wrapped up.  Financially, the conference has little to gain from adding another Texas-based school.  Memphis and BYU (Colorado State or New Mexico as well, but not likely) serve as better choices for expanding the media “footprint” of the conference.

Expansion Options

When push comes to shove, I don’t see either of the previous options as workable for TCU.  Instead, I see the most likely move for the MWC is the addition of a 12th program to improve the conference’s ability to reach BCS-AQ status.  Here is a list of the candidates ranked in order of likelihood/benefit for the conference.


#7 Rice

Advantages: Rice has a history with many of the Mountain West schools from its days in the WAC immediately following the breakup of the SWC.  Rice adds the Houston TV market to the MWC.  Could add a potential geographic rival  

Negatives: Rice is not exactly a football power.  The Owls are not very competitive in C-USA, so I don’t think they will be able to be competitive in the MWC.  Rice won’t add anything to the conference’s profile and would likely detract from a bid for BCS-AQ status.  In terms of the media market, Rice has one of the smallest alumni bases in the Bowl Subdivision, and the Houston market would be better served by adding UH.  Houston is a geographic outlier in the current MWC. 

Likelihood: Zero—Rice is better off in C-USA and the MWC is better off without them.


#6 Tulsa

Advantages: Tulsa has a history with many MWC schools (same WAC connection as Rice).  The Tulsa market would be a welcome addition for the Mtn. Network.  The football program is stronger than Rice. 

Negatives: Much like Rice, Tulsa has a very small alumni base.  Though a relatively strong market, MWC games would play third fiddle to Oklahoma and OSU games.  I think there are some better markets.  The football program adds little to the conference’s resume.  Tulsa is a geographic outlier for the conference. 

Likelihood: Slightly better than Rice, razor thin—Tulsa is a better fit for C-USA


#5 Utah State

Advantages: Heading into this season, the MWC had a stranglehold on the Utah media market via BYU and Utah.  Starting next year, the MWC will have neither school, adding Utah State will keep the MWC relevant in Utah.  Utah State was offered and declined a to the conference several months ago.  The Aggie basketball program adds to an already strong MWC and helps cushion the blow of losing BYU and Utah.  USU has history with most of the MWC schools. 

Negatives: Though Utah State keeps the MWC on Utah televisions; USU is clearly the number three TV draw in the state and likely won’t help ratings in Utah.  When Utah State was invited, it was seen by most as a last-gasp attempt to keep BYU from leaving due to the close relationship between the schools.  The Aggies will likely not draw enough TV viewers to justify adding their weak football program and hurting the BCS-AQ bid.  Though good, the basketball program doesn’t make up for the lack of a strong football program.  As we all know, football is the driving force behind realignment. 

Likelihood: Slim—The football program just isn’t good enough and it doesn’t provide a strong enough TV draw.  It is not the best option for a non-Texas school, should the conference want to go in that direction.


#4 Montana

Advantages: The Montana football program is the class of the Championship Subdivision.  Having the Grizzlies should help the MWC football resume.  Montana has two national championships (1995-2001) and has appeared in five National Championship Games in the last decade (2000, 2001, 2005, 2008, 2009).  Montana is an untapped market for FBS football. 

Negatives: The Grizzlies have already declined one invite from an FBS conference (the WAC) and appear to be happy remaining an FCS powerhouse.  The Montana media market doesn’t compare to the markets available in Texas. 

Likelihood: Moderate—This is the best non-Texas option for the conference.  Though Montana said no to the WAC, the MWC is a potential BCS-AQ conference and has much more stability than the WAC.


#3 Houston

Advantages: UH is a traditionally strong school for both football and basketball.  The university is planning on investing heavily in upgrading its athletic facilities.  UH grants access the Houston media (and recruiting) market for the MWC schools.  The addition of a second Texas school helps solidify the conference’s foothold in Texas. 

Negatives: Houston is a geographic outlier for the MWC.  UH doesn’t have a traditionally strong fan base.  Texas A&M and UT are the big draws in the area.  Houston might be holding out for an eventual Big XII invitation.  UH doesn’t have the kind of history with MWC schools as the next two options. 

Likelihood: Strong—There are more advantages than disadvantages to adding Houston.  The MWC couldn’t go wrong with this one.



Advantages: The El Paso media market is stronger than many would expect.  Not only is there a large population, but also UTEP athletics have no competition for attention.  El Paso is a better geographic fit in the MWC than C-USA.  UTEP has a history with most of the MWC. 

Negatives: The football program probably the fourth best option strength-wise for the conference.  The addition of UTEP still leaves TCU as the major geographic outlier in the eastern half of the conference. 

Likelihood: Very Strong—This is really a case of 1 and 1-A in my book.  There are several factors that lead me to putting this option second.


#1 SMU

Advantages: SMU football is historically the strongest program on the list (its resume is comparable to TCU, minus the Frogs’ recent success).  Under June Jones, the Mustangs appear to be on their way back to national relevance.  SMU has a strong and rich alumni base that is more than willing to support the team.  Adding TCU’s primary rival in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex has two advantages.  First, it provides incentive for TCU to not leave should a “better offer” come around.  Second, it provides insurance should TCU leave, as the MWC will still have a foothold in the very important Dallas-Fort Worth market.  The University has a brand new football stadium. 

Negatives: Though traditionally strong, SMU has been less than stellar since receiving the NCAA death penalty.  Adding SMU would involve betting that the program will continue to improve under June Jones and/or his successor.  The University offers little in terms of adding to the conference’s media footprint.  SMU doesn’t bring much to the conference in sports other than football.  Adding SMU has the potential to be a very dangerous gamble. 

Likelihood: Very Strong—SMU is a sleeping giant of a football program.  Having the Mustangs is important both for keeping TCU and in a potential post-TCU apocalypse.



This is where I come down on this issue.  What do you think?  Is there anything I misses?  Comments are encouraged and appreciated.



The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com