MWC caught in middle of expansion
By Ferd Lewis
For all the talk about the Big Ten knocking over the first dominos in the much-anticipated college athletic conference expansion land grab, keep your eyes and ears on the Mountain West Conference this weekend.
From the solitude of Jackson Hole, Wyo., where the MWC's presidents begin meeting Saturday, should come the opening move of realignment and, with it, tremors felt all the way here.
The MWC presidents seem poised to be more active than reactive in the current climate, which means plucking the University of Hawai'i's nemesis , Boise State, from the Western Athletic Conference.
Initially the Broncos appealed to the MWC largely because it was thought Boise State could bring enough clout from its postseason history to earn the conference a much-coveted automatic berth in the lucrative Bowl Championship Series.
And Boise State's two BCS appearances — plus the possibility of a third in 2010 — could be put in the MWC column provided the Broncos are brought on board for the 2011 football season.
But the release of the BCS' convoluted rubric on automatic qualification makes it more likely the MWC will be dragged down by bottom feeders San Diego State, New Mexico and Nevada-Las Vegas more than it can be hoisted by Boise State in the short term.
The Broncos' more immediate value to the MWC is as an insurance policy of sorts. With the Broncos on board, the MWC would be able to mitigate the damage if a Brigham Young, Utah or Texas Christian is plucked from its ranks by the Big 12. Not all three, but one or two.
If you are the MWC, the fear is that if the Big Ten grabs Missouri or Nebraska from the Big 12 or Texas and Texas A&M head to the Southeastern Conference the Big 12 will mount its own raid, snatching BYU, Utah, TCU or a combination.
An MWC minus those three pillars would be ripe for takeover by the WAC with its established ESPN contract. Indeed, indications are the WAC has talked to San Diego State and UNLV about keeping their options open should things really get rocking in the next 12 months, though nobody will acknowledge it.
Of course, after kicking around expansion for three years while unwilling to cut another share of pie, the MWC now is suddenly facing a decision and a deadline. Boise State would have to give notice to the WAC by July 1 if it intends to leave for the 2011 football season.
Which makes what happens through June 7 in Jackson Hole as interesting and as potentially far reaching as anything the MWC did on the field last season.