Sometimes the proverbial greener grass on the other side looks a lot different the closer you get: the grass isn’t greener, it’s just a different grass in a different location. Amidst the chaos of conference realignment and an evolving landscape in college sports, Boise State and San Diego State realized that what looked like a good idea from afar really wasn’t any better than their current situation.
After the restructured Bowl Championship Series format gave schools from the Mountain West and Big East (along with the other non-power conferences) an equal opportunity to qualify for a BCS game, the reasons to stay in the Mountain West far outweighed the reasons to move. The switch no longer made any sense strategically or financially. Boise State withdrew their commitment from the Big East right before the New Year, with San Diego State officially withdrawing and being reinstated to the Mountain West on Wednesday.
The news provides a sigh of relief for the other Mountain West schools, and should provide stability for a conference that has been one of the most active in realignment with several teams coming and going over the past few years. With San Diego State’s reinstatement, the Mountain West will have 12 football members next season, with Hawaii as the lone football-only member, giving them an 11 team league in all other sports.
Don’t be surprised if more moves follow. There have been hints that BYU is looking to re-join a conference in order to have better bowl tie-ins, with their former home the Mountain West being their preferred choice. BYU has been playing their other sports in the West Coast Conference, so it is possible that they may join as a football-only member. At this point, the Mountain West could seek one more member for all sports, which would give them a 14 member football conference and 12 member conference for all other sports. Regardless of any further expansion, one thing is clear for the Mountain West: the teams they have now will be staying for a while, with a new TV deal in the works and a football conference championship game sure to be finalized in the coming months.
Last decade when Boise State, Utah, and TCU stormed the BCS picture taking out highly ranked opponents from power conferences like Oklahoma, Alabama, and Wisconsin, the nation took notice. However, many of the power conference commissioners claimed those schools could certainly compete for one game with the big boys, but not for a full season; they had lots of talent, but were undersized and would wear down against tougher opponents with more depth. When the whirlwind of conference realignment began, many of those same commissioners apparently had a change of heart and decided those “small schools” were good enough to join their league. One of the first schools invited to a power conference was Utah to the now Pac-12. Next was TCU to the Big East, and ultimately the Big 12. Then it was the original Cinderella team Boise State to the Big East, among many others.
What many fans have realized is that those schools were good enough to compete all along; the big schools just didn’t want to share the massive paychecks they were receiving from the BCS. TCU went 7-6 in their first season in the Big 12, but were involved in several close losses, and at times were bigger and faster than some of their conference opponents who had been in the “power conference” for years. How much better will they be after collecting a Big 12 paycheck the next three or four years? Same with Utah and the Pac-12, the more money they earn, the more they can spend on facilities, recruiting budget, and stadium renovations/expansions. An increase in revenue for these schools will only make them more competitive down the line than they already are.
Boise State was in the driver’s seat with these conference negotiations. They knew both conferences needed them badly for name recognition and to give them a premier team to glorify on a national stage. They made the wise choice by staying in the stable conference, with the Big East unsure of its future in any regard as the “Catholic 7” figure out their next move. San Diego State was about to take its top-level basketball program to the Big West, which would have been an awful move for their RPI and strength of schedule. The Mountain West knew this, and never panicked. They let the process play out, waited patiently for things to settle while also setting up contingency plans, and then calmly welcomed both schools back in with open arms, like a father to his prodigal sons.
Fans have a lot to look forward to in the near future with this conference. Next season San Jose State and Utah State, two improving programs (both went 11-2 last season) who are getting more attention of late, will add more depth to an already competitive league. UNLV, the doormat of Mountain West football, is in the process of finalizing a stadium proposal that will be one of the most attractive places to play in the country if everything goes through. New Mexico was atrocious for years but played much better this year under first-year coach Bob Davie and should continue to improve, while Air Force, Fresno State, and Nevada remain steady programs year in and year out.
The Mountain West is already on the map as an elite mid-major basketball conference, with three teams consistently being ranked in the top-25 so far this season. The stability resulting from Boise State and San Diego State’s decisions, coupled with the restructured TV deal, will benefit the conference from top to bottom in recruiting and future planning. The key to any business’ long-term success is stability; the Mountain West finally has that.
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