It's official. The TCU Horned Frogs are the latest Mountain West Conference school to bolt for an automatic qualifier conference league. TCU will become an all-sports member of the Big East conference in July 2012 meaning that next season will be the last that TCU will spend in the MWC. Perennial MWC power Utah has already left for the Pac 10 and BYU has also left to go independent in football.
This move has to burn our "friends" in Memphis who have campaigned quite brazenly for consideration to rejoin their old C-USA rivals in the Big East. Memphis never seemed to remember that nobody cares if Josh Pastner signed a Top 2-3 recruiting class when it comes to realignment. When it comes to realignment, football is king and Memphis simply doesn't compete in football.
What Does TCU's Move Mean for Conference USA?
Amazingly, the C-USA has managed to stay untouched by the latest swarm of realignment. Despite notable efforts by UCF and Memphis to get into a Big 6 league, the fact is that neither program has reached a level of football notoriety worthy of admission the way Utah and Texas Christian have. UCF's made progress, but the bottom line is that the Knights are simply good enough to challenge mid level BCS programs but have never been able to beat them.
The C-USA's ability to stay in tact has been remarkable, but now more than ever it appears that some schools may be asked to leave to join the sinking MWC. The MWC last week seemed intent on moving up to become a 12 member football conference. The usual speculation swarmed over the potential candidates, mostly Houston, UTEP, Utah State, and SMU.
Keep in mind that at the tail end of the last realignment moves (BYU going solo) the MWC and C-USA entered into discussions where they seemed intent on working out a future together (via scheduling partnerships and possible a shared title game). The joint press released issued by the leagues convinced me that the league's would stay away from poaching from each other and so far that has been true. Now, however, it will be interesting to see what the MWC does to salvage a sinking ship.
As soon as Utah left and BYU let it be known that it was going solo, it became clear to me (despite rabid cries from MWC supporters) that there was no way the MWC would ever achieve AQ status. Why would BYU leave if Boise could replace Utah and the league could still reach AQ status? Never made sense. The move by TCU clinches this. The MWC is now forced to make a move to reassert itself as the best non-AQ league out there. Adding Boise State helps, obviously as BSU is the premier non- BCS program out there, but there's no denying that the MWC took a gigantic step backward in the last few months. Nevada, Fresno, and Boise simply don't compare to the losses of BYU, Utah, and now TCU.
So, expect increased chatter in the coming months about the MWC trying to pluck away Houston, SMU, and/or UTEP from the C-USA in an effort to either get back into the Dallas/Ft. Worth market, Houston market, or to bring in a school that actually sells tickets in UTEP.
Would UTEP, Houston, or SMU leave the C-USA?
The ironic thing is that right now, I don't see any of these schools leaving the C-USA. Years ago, and we've discussed this here, most Miner fans really wanted to get into the MWC for a chance to take on BYU and New Mexico in conference play again. Now, only an enhanced rivalry with New Mexico makes the MWC somewhat interesting for Miner fans. The truth is that the C-USA has been good for UTEP athletics as a whole. The Miners have formed strong rivalries with Houston, SMU, Tulsa, and Rice in the west division in football. In basketball, UTEP's rivalry with Memphis is the closest thing we've seen to the BYU/UTEP games that defined WAC basketball for a decade or more.
UTEP, SMU, Houston, and Rice have formed a coalition of sorts since all three were passed over by the MWC to begin with. Geographic restrictions of whats left of the MWC (without TCU) make it difficult to see why any of these schools would individually consider a lateral move to the MWC now. Perhaps, these schools would consider it if all of them moved and some sort of a 16 team league was formed? Maybe. But anything on that scale seems unlikely at this point.
Let's not forget a major sticking point in whatever the MWC may offer to a new school: their TV contract. This year, I was blown away that I couldn't watch key MWC contests because they were buried on the MTN or some other third rate network that isn't available in Texas. The MWC's lack of TV revenue was the main reason why BYU left to begin with. Why would a C-USA school leave the comforts of a solid ESPN/CBS deal to head off to the MTN and TV isolation? Granted, C-USA games on ESPN are usually on Friday or Thursday nights, but that's better than nothing, right?
If I'm Britton Banowsky, I'm watching the MWC very closely right now deal or no conference deal in place. The MWC is in dire straits and who knows whats coming next.