With more and more movement and potential movement around college athletics, the University of Texas at El Paso is once again put in a tough spot. The easy thing to do, would be to stay put in Conference USA, and basically just hope for the best.
Over the last year or so we've learned that C-USA will be losing ECU, Houston, Memphis, SMU, Tulane, and UCF all to the Big East, and would fill those voids with the likes of Charlotte, Florida Atlantic, Florida International, Louisiana Tech, Middle Tennessee State, North Texas, Old Dominion, and UTSA.
The biggest problem with all of that, is that Conference USA has lost its biggest players; its biggest revenue generators. We no longer are in a league with strong rivalries and historical ties. We are in a league that is quickly being strung together as we move along.
This just seems all too familiar. Back in 1999 we were a part of a similar movement. After experiencing some great years in a WAC that had thrived and become one of the better, if not the best non-power conference in the country, the powers of the league decided it was time to move on.
BYU and Utah snagged Air Force, Colorado State, New Mexico, San Diego State, UNLV, and Wyoming and rode off into the sunset to form the Mountain West Conference. The WAC was left standing with a core to build on, but nothing more. And so, the disintegrating of a once great conference began.
At UTEP we were just along for the ride. The Mountain West didn't want us to begin with, and still didn't as the WAC continued to lose members and fall apart. We were just lucky the mass expansion of 2005 was on the horizon, and Conference USA would need members like UTEP to replenish their own losses.
We were tossed a life raft when that invite came. It was our turn to get off the sinking ship, and it looked like a great move for the school. Of course, with the path that the WAC was on, any move was good for UTEP.
Conference USA provided greener pastures, and gave us an opportunity to compete against schools we had a bit of history with like Rice, SMU, and Tulsa, and also the ability to begin new rivalries with schools like Houston and Memphis.
We were naive to think that would last. Now, only seven years later, he we are again. Stuck, in a conference that is transforming into nothing familiar, and seemingly with no place to go.
Its almost become expected to wake up and read the news of another Conference USA school departing for the dysfunctional Big East, a Big East that sooner or later, will completely implode because of the poor decisions made by those in power.
In fact, we're seeing it now. Just today, we learned that the Big East basketball schools are no longer happy with what has happened to their league, almost completely without their consent. They may be quickly looking for a way out.
So what does that mean for the rest of us? Well, the Atlantic-10 is already looking to give those Big East schools a home, should they be looking for one. If that's the case, the Big East will either be looking for more schools to reload with, or will be seeing their end days.
The latter seems, more than ever, like a real possibility. After all, we've already heard the rumors of schools like Boise State and San Diego State being lured back to the Mountain West. And why not? The Big East TV money already isn't as good as it seemed it would be, and with more defections, probably wouldn't be more than the MWC could negotiate for.
Should all that happen, are schools like Houston, SMU, Memphis, and UCF likely to come asking for their spot back? I doubt it. Its more likely that the eastern schools look to form a league of their own, with others like Cincinatti, Connecticut, South Florida, and Temple, while Houston and SMU look for an invite to the MWC.
With the MWC already rumored to be looking for expansion candidates, Houston and SMU would probably be accepted with open arms. If they were, the conference would be up to 14 members, and could still look for two more to get to 16.
The likely pool of candidates would include BYU, Rice, Tulsa, and UTEP, in no particular order. BYU would almost certainly be at the top of the wish list though, but I'm not so sure they'd give up their independence to return to a situation eerily similar to what they left behind in the WAC.
Tulsa would be next. There are already rumors that they could be on the move in the near future. No one knows exactly how much truth there is to those rumors, but if this environment of a shifting landscape continues to be, it wouldn't be a surprise to see them move on.
Which leaves UTEP and Rice. Rice may be in the worst of spots, considering the University of Houston would already bring that TV market. Then again, the main reason Rice has been in the conversation has been for their academics, so they could still be a viable candidate.
For UTEP, its now or never. We are not in a position to wait around and see what happens next. Its time to look out for the best interest of the university and its "stockholders", and its time to figure out a way to get into the conference that many fans and alumni have felt we've belonged in for more than a decade.
It may not be an easy move. It may be an expensive move. But in the long term, it will be the best situation for our athletics programs, and more financially beneficial than staying in Conference USA.
Of course, an invite still needs to come, and that's not something that has seemed likely through the 10+ year history of the Mountain West. But, we are in different times now, and something tells me if we made a legitimate push, we could find a way to get in.
This university has done a ton over the last ten years to improve its academics, athletics, and facilities, and is continuing to do so as we make our way to the school's centennial anniversary. Now, its time to take this next step.
Conference USA is only a couple moves away becoming the most recent casualty of conference expansion, much like the WAC was. Unless we want to find ourselves, once again, looking for a liferaft, its time to make a move. Its now, or never.