After a crazy 48 hour span with rumors of a C-USA/MWC merger, Houston leaving, BYU going independent, and whatever else, we now have some answers while other questions remain to be solved. Here's where everything seems to stand right now:
1. Houston isn't going to the MWC
Mountain West Commissioner Craig Thompson told CBS Sports Dennis Dodd, who had earlier helped spread the Houston to the MWC story to begin with, that there was no truth to the rumors.
Mountain West Conference commissioner Craig Thompson just told me there is nothing to the Houston speculation. "I haven't had any communication with Houston," he said.
The Houston to the MWC didn't make sense to begin with. First off, Thompson and MWC Commissioner Craig Thompson have clearly become allies during this second stage of realignment. The two met Thursday in Colorado Springs, Co. to discuss joint strategies aimed at increasing TV revenue and increasing their league's opportunity to gain some sort of an AQ bid to the BCS. On Friday, both leagues sent out near simultaneous press statements indicating a strong friendship and confirming that some sort of consolidation had been discussed.
Why would Thompson turn around and poach a C-USA team while simultaneously trying to float the idea of a merged title game? It didn't make sense, and now Thompson's statements to Dodd confirm it. Houston is staying in the C-USA.
2. A Merger, in some way shape or form, is still a very real possibility in the future
Thompson also told Dodd:
' We did speak about, 'What if a group of 22-24 teams were to approach the BCS about an automatic bid vs. the nine, or eight or 10-mmeber Mountain West?' That was on the table. I'd like to label it a 'think session.' "
Thompson pointed out that this is barely year of 1 of the new four year BCS bowl rotation. Any chance to the current system couldn't happen until after this cycle ends, but it remains clear, the two conferences are considering some sort of united proposal with the primary goal of achieving one automatic bid to be divide among some combination of their teams.
The Memphis Commercial Appeal's Dan Wolken wrote last night:
Despite the denials, there are in fact discussions going on that could lead to the formation of a mega-conference between members of C-USA and the MWC. Would it be a true merger? No. There will not be a 22- or 23-team conference (pending BYU's decision about whether to go independent). But could there be a league of 16-to-20 that forms out of all this mess? After discussions over the last two days, I'm convinced it could happen.
We may not hear anything more about this for a while, but we'll have to monitor this possibility as the current BCS deal winds down in the coming years. Or, as Wolken speculates, we could have some sort of deal put in place well before that.
If an automatic bid is made available, it would be in both conferences interests to agree to whatever kind of merger/merged title game scenario that makes it possible. All non-AQ schools that have ever qualified for a BCS bowl game have had to go undefeated to do so. With this, Boise, TCU, or whoever else, for the first time, could qualify for a BCS bid with a regular season loss on their resume. The allure of the AQ would do wonders for both schools in recruiting, television marketability, and national exposure. ESPN would have to cover the leagues more than they do now with an AQ play-in game coming at the end of the season.
3. The Mountain West Just Ain't What it Used to Be
On the surface, it appeared that the MWC was every bit as strong as it was with Utah, when Boise State decided to come into the league. It's no secret that the MWC's television deal is terrible and that money wasn't exactly rollling in, but we never knew exactly how bad it was until BYU realized they could make more money alone and went solo. How bad is the MWC TV deal? BYU was willing to sacrifice their basketball program to the WAC to get out of it.
The threat of losing BYU forced the MWC into picking up Nevada and Fresno St. How do those teams help? They don't bring in television sets. They don't bring make it more likely for the MWC to ever achieve AQ status. All they do is dilute the pot of available TV revenues two more ways. That's it.
Thompsons willingness to unite with the C-USA at making this joint bid for an AQ is an admission that he knows the MWC cannot, in its current state, achieve automatic qualifier status alone. The league was close, and with Utah and Boise, would have had a legitimate shot. But now, the events of the last few days show that the MWC's strategy is no longer about achieving AQ status alone because their Commissioner knows its not ever going to happen.
While perusing other sites, particularly MWC message boards who have linked to Miner Rush over the last few days, I can't help but notice that MWC fans are feverishly against uniting with the C-USA in any way, shape, or form. The most common rhetoric seems to be something to the point of "We've earned AQ status and they've never had a single team qualify."
What these fans don't realize is that the MWC of the future looks a lot like the WAC of yesteryear. Utah's gone and BYU is desperately trying to escape. Do Nevada and Fresno St. equal Utah and BYU? What do you think? In fact, the new MWC, with Fresno and Nevada, looks a lot like the WAC the original members of the MWC couldn't wait to get away from. Conference USA hasn't had a great deal of TV success, obviously, but our league has a better TV deal than the MWC. Why? Because it's not about winning. It's about markets. And, C-USA cities are a lot easier to sell to advertisers than MWC cities are- and that's especially true now that the MWC may be devoid of any presence in Utah.
4. What Will BYU Do?
I've also read from various sites that this was apparently all some sort of a master plan by BYU to get a better TV deal out of the MWC- primarily a larger share of existing revenue or the ability to have an independent TV deal completely. I'm not buying that for a second and for obvious reasons. There is nobody out there that can make the Mountain West more marketable for a better TV deal right now. The school's just don't exist.
BYU believed that the old WAC, the one with Fresno and Nevada, was secure after the schools agreed to a $5 million dollar buy-out about a week before the rumors of independence broke. What does that say? It tells you that just a week ago, Nevada and Fresno never thought it was possible for their schools to get in the MWC. If they did, no way would Fresno sign the buyout (Nevada reportedly agreed but didn't sign through a "recording error"). Even so, when Nevada and Fresno decided not to honor their agreements to stay, it must have caught BYU off guard.
The Cougars simply don't have a place for their non-footballs squads to go now. The WCC offered a home but the WCC plays lots of games on Sundays, an absolute deal breaker for BYU (and one that might have kept them out of the Pac 10 to begin with). So why hasn't BYU announced they are staying? Because now they know that if they do, they have to share even more football money with Nevada and Fresno State. The MWC's moves to weaken the WAC may force BYU to stay in the MWC, for now, but it also made it more of a financial impossibility for them to do so in the long run.
5. Utah State to the MWC?
Reports are now indicating that Utah State is trying to get into the MWC. Is Utah State BYU's replacement? That remains to be seen, but you cannot replace Brigham Young with Utah State. While Utah State has an exceptional basketball program, let's not forget that just this season they had an RPI of 30, but couldn't draw an at large bid to the NCAA Tournament after losing their conference title game to NMSU. The Aggies simply don't have the national cache of a Gonzaga, St. Mary's, or Butler. If the MWC brings in Utah State, it will only weaken the leagues television appeal and it will cement the fact that the MWC knows they cannot get an AQ bid alone anymore.