Spring brinks basketball, flowers, and conference realignment rumors. This month there have been many Mountain West expansion stories, as the league pursues Gonzaga and the Zags pursue a better basketball league. Recently, a piece of information was released that concerns this league.
In the Activity Report for New Mexico Chancellor Garrey Carruthers, there was this explosive tidbit:
One rumor was the Mountain West would become a 16-member conference with two-8 member divisions. NMSU could come into play as a new member, along with UTEP.
UTEP fits culturally with the schools of the Mountain and old WAC much better than the current CUSA members. After all, El Paso is closer to California than to Houston.
Losing UTEP would make the league’s western most team UTSA, by one degree (and change) of longitude. The travel for everyone would be improved by an order of magnitude, and that would certainly offset the loss of an historic basketball university and an occasional solid football program.
Replacing the west division with a comparable member is not easy but there are many candidates: The most likely are some of the Sun Belt’s current members like Texas State, Arkansas State, Louisiana (Lafayette), or even one of the Alabama schools in Troy or South Alabama (Mobile). Mobile is actually closer to Houston, Dallas and San Antonio than Birmingham. Troy is just slightly more east than Birmingham. Both are very close to Hattiesburg.
Nearly every message board realignment thread has a scenario where the league adds either a Sun Belt team or a deserving FCS squad. We will not go through the permutations or the value judgements there beyond saying that regionality is important.
If this league were to reconfigure, adjusting the travel situation would be the very first priority. While the early 2010s configurations were seemingly concerned with television markets, the future of college football is in maximizing revenue and that will be through increasing attendance figures. One way to do that is in emphasizing regional rivals and making travel to road games easier. Television contracts for CUSA are not going to offset cross-country travel.
For UTEP, a move would remove the hotbed Texas recruiting spots, but gain them an exponentially better basketball league. The MWC is already a two-bid league with Nevada, and San Diego State in this year’s tournament. The Wolfpack are into the Sweet 16 round. Add to that possibly Gonzaga in this particular rumor, and a very good basketball program — and rival to UTEP — in New Mexico State, and the MWC is a league that can easily command multiple bids for years to come.
The vast majority of basketball revenue comes from the NCAA Tournament. The shares of the pot come to each league via “units” or shares based on the games the conference’s teams participated in. The more bids a league receives means the number of units increases.
Hat tip to gmg.