The Mountain West blog roundtable: On expansion, UTEP, and hipster mustaches

As a way to stay up-to-date and informed but mostly just to talk trash, I enlisted six of the most knowledgeable Mountain West minds on the Internet to participate in a monthly chat about a hot MWC story.

This month's topic: Should the Mountain West add more teams?

Read on for the opus on all things expansion, and check out the first Mountain West Power Poll at the bottom. Guess who's in first? I'm starting to like this Mountain West thing.

Meet the press:

  • Wyoming - Matt - Cowboy Altitude
  • Mountain West - Jeremy - Mountain West Connection
  • TCU - Ben - Mountain West Connection
  • Colorado State - Ian - Mountain West Connection
  • UNLV - Jacob - Mountain West Connection
  • San Diego State - Sam - Mountain West Connection
  • Boise State - Kevan - OBNUG

This month's topic: Should the Mountain West add more teams?

Ready ... go!

Kevan (Boise State):

When the topic of expansion comes up, I am torn between wanting what is practical and wanting Craig Thompson to blow the whole thing up, merge with C-USA, hold his own postseason tournament, and dance on the pre-purchased cremation box of Jim Delany. But practicality usually wins out. Stupid practicality.

I do not want the Mountain West to expand for one main reason: the BCS. Craig Thompson was right when he floated the theoretical of a zero-loss Mountain West team going undefeated only to lose in a Mountain West championship game that a) doesn't need to exist and b) costs the conference millions of dollars in BCS payouts. Thompson has a point. And what glorious hair!

Craig-thompson-mwc-commissioner_medium

"I know, right?"

Once Utah and TCU leave, the non-BCS teams have a much easier road to a BCS game. Keep in mind: a non-BCS team only needs to finish No. 12 to get an automatic bid. That's something even UNLV could do, I'd imagine. With the way the college football world works right now, there are far worse things than being in a conference where your champion is the favorite for a BCS berth every year.

***

Ian (Colorado State):

Expansion seems like a win, lose, lose for most MWC teams. The MWC/CUSA in my eyes ends up worse than the old MWC with a BYU/Utah/TCU powerhouse structure. The haters can just look at a deeper weaker conference and keep teams out of the big bowl games. Beating eight average teams is no different than being the best of 16 average teams. Unless C-USA starts getting some big time programs, I don't see the expansion being worth it. The power structure of the MWC will be weak with BYU, Utah, and TCU leaving.

That structure will soon be Boise St. all alone, so no wonder OBNUG doesn't want expansion. They can schedule a hard non conference opponent and then coast through conference play, until they head to Nevada. WIDE LEFT! Too early?

OBNUG, I agree with you, but I got to get my shots in cause I am not sure the Rams will do it for me on the field. And as you said, a non-BCS team only needs to finish top 12 to get an automatic bid. The Rams might get that lucky if the stars and home schedule line up.

Another perk to keeping the path to the BCS easy for the MWC champion is money sharing. CSU being near the bottom of funding is always a reminder for me to root for TCU or whoever has the best shot at bringing home some dough to the lil guys. That plays into the travel/ travel expense argument for the small money MWC teams.

In the end it is about making your team better and giving them a better shot at a bowl game. CSU gets further away from that goal with expansion.

***

Jacob (UNLV):

Should the Mountain West expand? Yes. But not right now. Right now UTEP has stated that they would stay in C-USA if they got an invite. If the Big East decides to make the football side of the conference go up to 10 or 12, then they will probably take SMU and Houston. At that point, the Texas schools have broken rank and UTEP probably would accept an invite to the Mountain West.

The Miners are the best expansion candidate out there and for many reasons. They bring the El Paso market, and can deliver it. They have an OK football program with good attendance numbers. Their basketball program is very good and would only add to what the MWC already has going for them. They put the MWC back in Texas. And the list goes on... The point is that UTEP adds a ton to the MWC in every aspect when it comes to expansion.

The only problem with expansion is the question of who would be the 12th team. There really isn't a clear cut option for a 12th team as both SMU and Houston would expand the conference's footprint pretty far, Utah State sucks at football, and Montana and San Jose State are FCS teams (San Jose State is a FCS team, right?).

San-jose-state-fumble_medium

No, Jacob, I am not sure they are.

My vote for the 12th team would go to Utah State, and there are many reasons - good or bad - depending on your perspective. USU is in Utah, the geographical center of our conference. With Utah and BYU leaving, there will be a giant hole in our footprint, and USU fills that up. Logan, Utah, is technically a part of the greater Salt Lake City area, and with The Mtn. already on basic cable in that area, I'm sure the cable company would appreciate not having to change their channel lineup.

As long as the channel stays on basic cable in that area, that means that the channel will be delivered to the 32nd largest city in the U.S. That may not mean much to us, but it does to the TV executives. Here is my explanation of why from one of my posts on Mountain West Connection:

People don't have to subscribe specifically to The Mtn. All they have to do is subscribe to the package the Cable company offers with it. i.e. With the new reach in Atlanta, The Mtn. is on the same package as NFL Red Zone. Without knowing it, tons of people will subscribe to The Mtn. as well as NFL Redzone and the MWC makes money off of it.

Although almost no one in Salt Lake City will watch The Mtn, people will subscribe to the channel and give the MWC more money.

As well as markets, USU brings in a Top 25 basketball program and a budding football program. They went 5-7 last season and beat BYU. With the WAC being so weak this year, it's very possible for them to make a bowl game. Not to mention they are planning on expanding their stadium from 19,000 to 30,000 very soon. Utah State is better than it looks like on the outside.

For the twelfth basketball member, I think we should add Gonzaga. They are a very good basketball program. They don't have a football program, so they won't need to find a place for that program to go to. And they are in Spokane, which is a relatively big media market we could add.

Under this configuration, the MWC would have these major markets: San Diego, Fresno, El Paso, Las Vegas, Salt Lake City, Spokane, Denver, Albequerque. They would also have these basketball teams proven to be good: UNLV, SDSU, CSU, UNM, UTEP, USU, Gonzaga. That's 7 good basketball programs in the conference...

Like I said at the beginning of this e-mail, now is not the time to do this. We most likely won't be able to get UTEP until after another round of expansion by the Big 6 conferences and who knows who will be available after another round of expansion. If the super conferences happen, then Texas Tech would most likely be left out and Tech would be a much better addition than USU.

So in short, expansion is a good idea, just not right now.

***

Ben (TCU):

As a TCU fan I don't really have a dog in this fight. We're getting our golden ticket in 2012, and personally I am still pretty butt-hurt at the MWC for pulling the switcheroo on the Boise game, so I could really care less what happens to the MWC after we leave.

However if I were so inclined to offer some friendly advice to our soon to be ex-conference brethren, my advice would be to regain a foothold in Texas. I don't care how many TV sets it does or doesn't add because you should be doing it for one sole purpose: recruiting. Take a look at any MWC football roster, and you will see that it is littered with Texas athletes. A big part of that was TCU giving the MWC a foothold in the fertile recruiting grounds of Dallas-Fort Worth. If you don't refortify your position in Texas, that recruiting pipeline will dry up and your teams with no local recruiting base will whither away on the vine.

My advice to the MWC would be to add SMU and Houston, which would not only position the MWC in the two most fertile recruiting grounds that Texas has to offer but also the two largest media markets. Two birds, one hair. I would then split into two divisions of West (Boise State, Nevada, UNLV, SDSU, Fresno State, and Hawaii) and East (CSU, Wyoming, New Mexico, Air Force, SMU, and Houston). This way the West has a primary recruiting base in California, and the East has a primary recruiting base in Texas, which should assure the long-term health of all the MWC programs.

But like I said it's no skin off my nose if you decide to maintain the status quo and slowly fade away into obscurity because that is fine by me as well.

***

Kevan (Boise State):

OK, I'll admit that my rationale for avoiding expansion is slightly (very) selfish. No expansion means better odds that Boise State makes a BCS bowl, especially once TCU leaves. No offense to all you other MWC teams out there, but yeah, maybe some offense.

Also, yes, it's too soon for Nevada jokes. I laugh so I don't cry!

For those of you arguing in favor of expansion, what benefits are there other than getting a foothold in certain markets? El Paso alone ain't doing it for me.

El-paso_medium

***

Ben (TCU):

Another obvious benefit is the addition of a conference championship game. Having a championship game adds revenue to the conference and keeps the conference relevant during championship weekend when most everyone begins to forget about and dismiss the MWC.

Kevan's argument that a championship game could cost an undefeated team a BCS bid is valid, but it is the position of the uncompetitive and weakminded like the Bevo-10. If in the long-term the MWC wants respect and a place at the table, it will have to earn it the hard way, and adding a championship game is a piece of that puzzle.

***

Jeremy (impartial):

I'll take the side of being pro-expansion within the Mountain West, because if done right the Mountain West could make themselves better then the Big East on a permanent basis. There are really only two options regarding expansion for the Mountain West - add SMU and Houston or Utah State and UTEP. The reason UTEP is mentioned as being a solid market is because they are the only team in town and they draw well, and while their market size is not great, it is on par with Fresno State and Nevada. Plus, they have history with old-WAC teams with New Mexico, Colorado State, Air Force, and San Diego State. Utah State is a legit choice due to Comcast losing BYU and Utah, which carried The Mtn channel, and now the state that provided the most ad dollars are gone. From a competitive standpoint Utah State is not a good option. They are getting better but are not there yet.

Having said that, I strongly feel the only option is to take SMU and Houston. June Jones is building up SMU after years and years of suffering and he has the track record to make SMU a very good team. There is no reason that within a decade - or even sooner - he can have SMU on the same path that TCU has been traveling the past decade.

As for Houston, they have been an up-and-coming team back when Art Briles was the head coach and have kept that going with Kevin Sumlin. Comcast would love to add Houston for television sets even though Houston is low on the list of popularity in their city.

There are pros and cons to having a title game that have been mentioned like a 12-0 Boise State team losing to a 9-3 San Diego State team and costing the league BCS money, but exposure is key to building a league. The game would be on a Saturday and on Versus with the current television deal and should net somewhere near five million bucks. However, it would be up against one of the many other title games with now five of the six BCS leagues  having a title game. That would hurt.

The only option for expansion should be SMU and Houston as they are the only schools that provide the league with the best chance to increase their BCS numbers.

***

Matt (Wyoming):

I'm a huge fan of expansion and expansion rumors but I feel the Mountain West did the right thing by not expanding in January.  Besides geography, Utah State doesn't bring much to the table right now.  And with their location and the demise of the WAC, they aren't going anywhere any time soon.  Expanding to 12 teams right away just to add a championship is kind of pointless if it ruins the strength of the Mountain West. 
 
We need to find schools that want stick with the Mountain West and fit with the other members.  With the Big East still looking at expansion, it could make things interesting in the next couple months.  If UCF gets picked off, then C-USA could be weakened enough that some of the Texas schools may finally look at jumping ship.  I would also be interested to see what happens with the Big 12 and the stability of that conference moving forward.  Baylor and Iowa State may be available in a few years and are established names that would bring more credibility. 
 
So 12 teams would be great but not with the schools are available.  Wyoming gets most of it's recruits east of the Rockies so I would be a fan of expansion back into Texas.

***

Ben (TCU):

If Baylor and Iowa State would bring more credibility to the conference, the MWC is in a lot worse shape than I thought.

***

Jeremy (impartial):

Got that right. If the Big 12 goes under because Texas goes the indy route, then look for Kansas and Kansas State to head to the Big East as reported a while back. Then the rest gets murky because Texas A&M has flirted with the SEC, and if the Aggies go to the SEC, then the super leagues are on their way. I dont see that happening due to the money not being there.

If Texas does go indy, expect the Big 12 to add three teams with the most likely additions being BYU, TCU heading back with their old SWC buddies, and the third could come from the MWC such as San Diego State who has been quietly talked about being part of the Big 12 expansion plans.

Getting off topic, but I just don't think MWC will be in a position to keep teams if the Big 12 comes calling for MWC schools to join their league.

***

Sam (San Diego State):

Gonna keep it short and sweet and echo basically what SDSU president Weber said... expansion would be nice, but there just isn't anyone out there we could add that is really any good that would add to the conference right now. Just gotta hold our cards and see what happens elsewhere.

Stephen-weber_medium

FYI: this is what Stephen Weber looks like.

***

Kevan (Boise State):

The "No Expansion" camp is a lot smaller than I thought it would be (Hi, Ian!).

TV markets, recruiting, and championship game dollars are all solid reasons for expansion, but I keep coming back to the ultimate reason: the BCS. The Mountain West's goal is to gain an automatic spot in a BCS game for its conference champion. Does expansion make that happen? Not necessarily. It's like saying that if I hit the gym, get a haircut, buy a Saab, and memorize Hope Floats that the girl I'm crushing on will like me. She might. Or the muscle I build could be all in my thighs (adding San Jose State), the haircut I get could make me look like Ellen Degeneres (adding a conference championship game), and two years from now that girl could be into skinny, shaggy, shallow guys with hipster mustaches (the BCS changing its mind).

Point being, expansion does not guarantee an automatic BCS berth. So I vote we leave well enough alone.

***

Ben (TCU):

So just to clarify, Kevan has a hipster mustache? Also if I understood the analogy correctly there is no potential downside to memorizing Hope Floats or buying a SAAB? Man, this expansion stuff is more complicated than I thought.

***

Kevan (Boise State):

The downside to memorizing Hope Floats = you've memorized Hope Floats.

Hope-floats_medium

Rotten Tomatoes rating: Cuddly.

***

Jeremy (impartial):

Kevan's logic is what Craig Thompson was using by delaying the addition to add Boise State, but I still argue that had he added Boise State and TCU at the same time, the MWC might have earned an auto-bid and possibly kept around Utah, BYU, and TCU. Side tracking again, but Thompson kept saying that unless expansion brings the league an automatic BCS bid then there is no reason to expand ... well unless you want to take your competition by raiding the WAC out of spite for what BYU did, then every team is for gain.

Unless the league is going to get Houston and SMU, leave the league as it is.

***

Ian (Colorado State):

I am surprised more here are for expansion. Inviting more average teams for our average teams to lose to won't make any of us feel better. The additions of the WAC teams was good with me. Not sure why you want to see the Aztecs, Rebels, and Cowboys end up having to travel to Southern Miss and take a loss. Keep the travel simple and actually build some rivalries within the new MWC.

The recruiting to areas is a bit soft of an argument if you ask me. The Rams have been picking Florida kids ever since Steve Fairchild got here. They didn't get many from those areas before because Sonny Lubick wanted Colorado and California kids. Fairchild gets kids from Texas, Florida, and California because that's where the best athletes are. I am not sure a geographical team actually helps recruiting much, getting beat 40+ points in TCU every two years sure doesn't bolster recruiting from a logical perspective. If the reason an athlete picks a school is because they play a local team every two years, that kid has some bad decision making skills. If coaches go in and recruit an area, they will get kids out of it. CSU is looking for athletes, so they choose Florida, Texas, and California. If they wanted big, strong, corn-fed kids, they would go recruit Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Nebraska.

Heavy-kid_medium

Go Huskers!

***

Jacob (UNLV):

With adding USU and UTEP, there would be no extra travel costs as well as a most likely easy win for the average teams in the MWC.

I really like the idea of adding USU and UTEP, but I would be fine if the MWC just stands pat and waits for other dominoes to fall around them. I was not fine with that in the case of adding Boise State and Co. In that scenario, the expansion candidates were very good and should have been brought on board earlier, but in this scenario, the candidates are average to bad football teams. Letting other dominoes fall around us could get us better teams such as Texas Tech.

At this point my idea would be to wait 4-5 years and see if any better candidates become available as well as give time for Utah St. And UTEP to possibly build up their football programs so that if we have to settle for them, they aren't too bad of an addition.

***

Ben (TCU):

Basically it just depends on what the MWC is looking for out of expansion and what the realistic goal is for the conference at this point. It seems a lot of you are holding on to the hopes of the MWC becoming a BCS auto-bid, but the harsh reality of the situation is that ship has sailed. The door closed after Utah and BYU left, and it got bolted shut when TCU got the Big East invite.

So just for the sake of the argument, agree with me that the BCS is a pipe dream for the MWC and tell me what your goal is for the conference.

Is it to maintain the status quo and exploit the non-AQ BCS loophole as long as possible? Great, then stay at ten and keep an eye out for a major shakeup down the line.

Is it to strengthen the TV numbers? Then add UTEP and Utah State. They would be a decent but not sexy addition with little to no upside, like hitting a single.

If the goal is to strengthen the conference as much as you can in the current state of college football, then you need to add SMU and Houston. Gives the conference teams with history, recruiting bases, large television markets, and they are as sexy a name out there right now. Adding SMU and Houston is like hitting a double and puts you in scoring position but isn't a home run because the home run is just not in the cards right now. In my opinion it is the smart move for the future of the conference, and for the future of teams like Air Force, CSU, Wyoming, and New Mexico. But it doesn't look like it will happen anytime soon because the MWC isn't sure of what it is right now or where it's going. It's a sad state to see after being such a hot conference just a few months ago.

***

Jeremy (impartial):

All good points, Ben. Assuming an undefeated MWC team is going to make a BCS game then staying pat is the right business move. There is too much risk trying to add a few million bucks with 12 teams if an undefeated MWC team trips up in a conference title game and thus loses out on the BCS cash. Stay at 10 and hope Hawaii and Nevada can build on their recent success and attempt to make the MWC stronger.

***

Kevan (Boise State):

As someone who has followed Hawaii and Nevada closely for the past few years, I find that last sentence hilarious. And, upon further introspection, quite sad.

The Mountain West Conference Power Poll (and UNLV)

Each voter ranked the Mountain West teams numbers one through eight. Here are the individual ballots from each voter because transparency is all the rage and Jeremy of Mountain West Connection really appreciates your hate mail. It validates him.

  1. Boise State (7)
  2. TCU
  3. San Diego State
  4. Air Force
  5. Colorado State
  6. UNLV
  7. Wyoming
  8. New Mexico

The homer voter of the week: Matt from Wyoming's Cowboy Altitude blog. Matt voted his Cowboys No. 5 in the conference, a full two spots higher than anyone else voted them.

Your turn

Do you think the Mountain West should add any more teams? Hope Floats - thumbs up or thumbs down? Were you able to finish reading this post in under 30 minutes? Share your thoughts in the comments.

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