Realignment for most college football fans is fun. If you're a Texas fan, you are probably giddy about the chance to travel to the Coliseum to play USC every now and again. If you're a Michigan fan, you are probably pumped about having a new power, like Nebraska, come to town too. Down, on the other end of the spectrum, if you're a UTEP Miner fan, realignment may be exciting, but it's also terrifying. Why? Because we know what it feels like to be the last one at the dance without a partner. When the WAC splintered off and the teams we spent 30 years with went off to form the MWC, we tasted the sour end of conference expansion. So, while I'd love to write up a comical piece mocking the absurdity of this process, I can't do it. Why? Because I can't help but wonder what will happen if UTEP gets left behind again? Well, based on what's been reported lately, here are some guesses as to how it could all play out.
Set the Stage
Last week, Chip Brown of Orangebloods.com published an article that stunned the world of college athletics. Unlike most of the random rumors that have popped up over the last few months, since the Big 10 and Pac 10 first announced they were seriously considering expansion. Recent updates from Rivals, which include quotes from state legislators on the process have all but confirmed that the invitations are real.
If you haven't read Brown's report, he contends that the Pac 10 is set to invite six Big 12 schools, to join their league. Brown also reported, on his radio show, that these teams are expected to accept these invitations. Texas, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas Tech, Colorado, and Texas A&M would move to the Pac 10. The Pac 10 would then create two 8 team divisions. Essentially, the "mega conference" would look like this:
|PAC 10 West
|PAC 10 EAST
|Cal Golden Bears
|Texas A&M Aggies
|Oklahoma State Cowboys
|Texas Tech Red Raiders
|Washington State Cougars
|Arizona State Sun Devils
|Oregon State Beavers
Recent updates by Brown also indicate that the Texas legislature is fighting tooth and nail for Baylor to be included in the new deal. If the Pac 10 agrees, Colorado is expected to get the boot from the deal. Brown also reported that the Big 12 has given Nebraska a deadline of Friday to say if they are leaving or not. More on that here, in the FanShots.
Where Does This Leave UTEP and the rest of the C-USA?
If all these expansion rumors are true, if the Big 12 South (+Colorado/Baylor) becomes that Pac 16 West, then what will the ripple effects be? I realize expansion/realignment talk from UTEP's and the C-USA's perspective may be premature since too many wheels are in motion to have any real idea of what will end up shaking out in the end. But, when dealing with this rumor-fueled topic absurdity is the nature of the beast. So, here are my theories as to how this could play out in the end.
Wave 1: Pac 10/Big 12 South Consolidation & the Big 10's Likely Response
For the sake of our sanity, I'm going to assume that longtime expansion holdout Notre Dame stays independent in football. The safe bet, until we hear otherwise, is to assume the Irish stay out of this fray. The first round of movement should look like this.
1) The Big 12 squads head over to the Pac 10- forming the first 16 team "Mega" Conference. In fact, the first move will probaly be Missouri and Nebraska leaving for the Big 10. If they abandon the Big 12 North, it appears Texas & Co. will head out west. Texas prefers to keep the Big 12 together, so that they can pursue their own TV contract. By going to the Pac 10, the Horns would be forced to give up on their dream 24 hour cable all Longhorn network.
2) Anyway, the Big 10 picks up Nebraska and Mizzou from the Big 12 North. The Big 10 would now have 13 schools. I'd bet that the Big 10 would be somewhat interested in adding Kansas too, but if the Kansas legislature forces KU to stay with K-State, expect them both to get left out of the Big 10. KU doesn't have nearly the clout, and financial impact, of Texas. For Texas, a conference would be willing to take on a Texas Tech or Baylor, but the same can't be said for KU and K-State.
3) The Big 10 also nabs 3 Big East schools to get to the new-found magic number of 16. We'll guess Rutgers, UConn, and Pitt get the nod.
4) The last part of Wave 1 appears to be a quick, pre-emptive strike by the Mountain West. The 9 team league is expected to add Boise State to get to 10 teams.
What's left in the Wake?
Here's where the Big 12 and Big East would stand at this point.
1. The Big 4: The Big 12 is all but erased. The Big 12 North is left with Kansas, Kansas State, and Iowa State. Baylor or Colorado will be gone to the Pac 10. The power play between Baylor and CU cannot be overstated in importance. More on that later.
2. The Big Uneven: The Big East has always been the weakest of the BCS conferences in football (maybe the ACC is worse now). Anyway, take away three of their football squads and you have an uneven mess of a league. There would be 5 football schools remaining (West Virginia, Louisville, Cincinnati, Syracuse, USF) and 8 basketball schools (Georgetown, Villanova, DePaul, St. John's, Marquette, Notre Dame, Seton Hall, Providence).
Theory 1: Ripple Effects, The MWC Stands Pat
Now, the way I see it, three things can feasibly happen. Either, the MWC can stand pat at 10 teams, expand to 12, or expand to 16 to form a "mega conference" of their own and increase their presence in Texas. My first theory, "Ripple Effects," is the most conservative. The MWC won't be overly aggressive and the Big East will make predicable moves.
At this point, it's essential to set the conference pecking order. The biggest winner of the first wave, save the Pac 16 and Big 16, is undoubtedly the Mountain West. Remember when we all thought Utah and BYU were gone? Well, the MWC survived and actually gets stronger by adding Boise St. The MWC is clearly stronger than what's left of the Big 12 and football wise, has a much stronger league than the Big East. So, we have to wonder: Will the Mountain West seize the moment and choose to further expand at this point?
Assuming Colorado Goes to the Pac 10: That leaves Kansas as the crown jewel of the free agent schools. Lawrence isn't too far out of the existing MWC landscape; I mean if they can work in Ft. Worth, home of TCU, they can probably work in Lawrence and Manhattan, right? Assuming the Kansas legislature forces the Kansas schools to stay together, the MWC will have to look long and hard at Kansas and K-State. Both schools are powerful in basketball and have at least some history of success in football (K-State was obviously a powerhouse during the first Snyder era and KU played in a BCS Bowl).
What we do know is that the Big East will be forced to make a move. With only 5 football schools, the Big East will have to move quickly to add three football squads. Take a look at a map of the Big East.
Is it really far fetched to think that if the Big East can work in South Florida, they can't work in Kansas and K-State? Who are their other candidates? Obviously, C-USA fans know that Memphis has done as much campaigning as possible to get into the Big East and reunite their basketball team with the Big East programs that burned them a few years back. Here is a list of the Big East's likely short list.
1. Kansas/ K-State package
3. Central Florida
4. East Carolina
The Big East wants to increase their presence in Florida, which favors UCF. The Knights have dramatically improved their facilities to be in position to get a bid here. East Carolina might have the best football program of all these schools and makes sense geographically.
Assuming Baylor Goes to the Pac 10: Now, what if these new reports are true and the Texas legislature forces the Pac 10 to take Baylor instead of Colorado? With Colorado, Kansas, and K-State available, There will be increased pressure for the MWC to expand now. The problem is that they've already, reportedly, asked Boise State to come along. Now, if they expand, they are up to the unholy number of 13 schools. What does that mean? Well, you gotta add three more, right? Conference counting has a logic: 8, 12, 16. There's no room for a 13 here. The earth might stop spinning. Regardless, this hypothetical, is built around a conservative MWC plan to stay at 10 teams.
The Predicted Moves:
The MWC follows their past pattern of behavior. They've been patient with expansion with TCU and Boise State. Confident they can gain an AQ with the Big 12 falling apart, they stick with 10 schools. The "10" number is key because it allows for a true round robin schedule in football (9 conference games and 3 non-con's) and the pie of their sure to improve TV deal will only be split 10 ways; not 12 or 16.
The Big East, forced to add three football schools, swoops in, burns any semblance of geographic sanity and adds Kansas/K-State. The Big East needs the biggest names available because they quite frankly will have to save face. The Big East will be charmed by UCF, and the Orlando media market, but they need a team a name program that helps them save face now, not in 5 years. The Big East adds another basketball power, Memphis, who also has some rivalry history with Louisville and their old C-USA counterparts.
What's Left in the Wake?
1. A 10 team MWC- current members plus Boise State
2. A Big East that isn't altogether worse than what was there before (minus the size of their media markets) with 8 football schools; travel isn't great but at least they get a name program or two
3. The C-USA loses Memphis.
The C-USA Response
The C-USA isn't hurt all that much. Obviously, losing Memphis basketball hurts, but their football program isn't anything to regret losing. The C-USA looks to add one school to the East division. Here are the candidates.
1. Baylor: Done deal, Baylor doesn't fit with the MWC or Big East. They have history with Houston and SMU and can bus to some games. Tulane gets yanked into the C-USA East which shouldn't be much of a change for them. If for whatever reason, Baylor isn't available, the candidates for C-USA expansion look something like this.
2. North Texas Mean Green: UNT has shown they are making progress as they just broke ground on a new $60 million stadium. They will be a candidate if the C-USA has multiple spots to fill.
3. Florida Atlantic; best of the Florida options left (over Florida International)
4. UL-Lafayette: good in basebeall, geographically makes sense.
So, the C-USA loses Memphis but gains Baylor. If Baylor's not there, it will be UNT or possibly Florida Atlantic (again the best available Florida school).
Theory 2: Insanity Rising; the MWC goes to 12
The real fun starts if the MWC decides to expand past 10. Say, the MWC decides to go to 12 with the addition of Kansas/K-State. Remember, this theory only works if Colorado goes to the Pac 10. If CU is there, you'd have to assume that they will be included here and the MWC goes to 16. More on that later.
The Kansas schools could find that keeping some presence in Texas (TCU) benefits their program more than going to the Big East. I think KU's entire football roster played high school football in Texas. KU's football team would all of a sudden be one of the better teams in a good conference instead of being the 6th or 7th best year in and year out in the Big 12.
Also, 12 is the magic number for a conference championship game. The MWC loses a round-robin schedule but splits into two divisions (preserving obvious rivalries like BYU/Utah).
The Big East, with KU/Kansas gone, go back to the list of C-USA squads that can fill their need of three football schools. This time, they take Memphis, UCF and East Carolina.
What's Left in the Wake?
1. A 12 team MWC that just became one of the best basketball conferences in the nation
2. The Big East is back at 8 football schools (with a good, quality team in ECU, a stronger presence in Florida, and they bite the Memphis football bullet to bring in the basketball squad that's among the nation's best).
3. The C-USA East is in shambles
The C-USA's Response:
Losing ECU, Memphis, and UCF would decimate the C-USA East. The Texas schools would be weary of continuing a partnership with what's left. Marshall, USM, and UAB have their strong points but the meat of the division is really gone. Here, the Texas schools would have to consider two options:
1. First the Texas schools, with Baylor in tow, could break Away from the C-USA and form a new version of the old Southwestern Conference. A Texas-centric league would look like this:
- Houston (old SWC)
- Rice (old SWC)
- SMU (old SWC)
- Baylor (old SWC)
- Mystery Team: I would guess that UNT would be a candidate, along with the other Sun Belt squads
The 8 team league would be a hell of a lot of fun for Texans. Tulsa has fit in well with the Texas schools, Tulane is close enough to Houston, and provide a nice presence in Louisiana for the league to recruit. Heck, if UTSA comes along well enough, we could even boot out one of the outsiders. Geography makes sense and no more road trips to Huntington, West Virginia, for the football teams.
2. Or, the C-USA Texas schools could stick with the league that hasn't been altogether terrible for them. It's really not too bad, with Baylor there, you only have two spots to fill. Baylor comes to the West and Tulane is off the the East. The new C-USA would look something like this.
|Tulane Green Wave
|USM Golden Eagles
|Marshall Thundering Herd
|UL-Lafayette Ragin Cajuns
|Tulsa Golden Hurricane
Theory 3: Mega Conference Mayhem
Maybe Karl Benson isn't the fool who over-expanded the WAC and killed the league. Rather, what if he was a visionary whose genius was merely ahead of its time? If you recall, Benson formed the first 16 team conference with the WAC back in the 1990's. His problem? He created 4 random "pods" as divisions, travel was insane, rivalries were lost, and his mistake gave birth to the MWC.
Assuming First that Colorado Goes to the Pac 10:
What if the MWC decides to add in Kansas/K-State, takes a look at the college landscape and determines that the Mountain West Network will be best served by expanding into Texas too? Could the MWC become a "light" version of the new Pacific 16? I think, if they could get enough quality teams to sustain two divisions they would have to consider it.
The MWC's candidates would be (in no particular order):
4. Iowa State
6. Fresno State
The existing league schools would form an 8 team division. TCU and New Mexico move to the East. Boise, of course, joins the West. I would have to guess that Baylor would get the nod in the East. Baylor makes sense, being close to Ft. Worth, strong non-football squads in almost everything and the Bears expand the conference footprint to central Texas and the recruiting rich Killeen, Ft. Hood, and Temple areas.
After that, Houston would probably be next in the pecking order because of the temptation of the Houston media market. I'd like to say that UTEP, with their established rivalries with the old WAC and proximity to UNM would be a lock here. But, it would be anybody's guess as to who the MWC would pick here. UTEP has aligned itself well with Rice, SMU, and Houston over the years. However, as we all know, market expansion is all about watching your own back. The addition of Kansas and K-State shift the direction of the MWC West away from El Paso. Houston, SMU and Tulsa will all be in direct competition with UTEP in this scenario. UTEP will very likely be the last team in or the last team out. There will be a lot of competition for three spots. If you want numbers on why UTEP is in good shape, when compared to Houston, Tulsa, Nevada, Fresno State, and others, read this. Here's what the Mega MWC might look like.
|San Diego State
Assuming Colorado Gets Left Behind & Baylor Goes to the Pac 10
If Colorado gets left holding the bag you have to assume that the MWC would be immediately interested. The Buffs are a natural fit with their other schools and help solidify the Denver media market. It's an absolute no-brainer and the MWC would be hard pressed not to bring CU into the fold.
The problem? Ironically enough could be the newest member of the league: Boise State. Now, with 11 members, the MWC would need to add at least one more team to form two divisions. The best available team out there is definitely Kansas. But, KU comes along with Kansas State. All of a sudden, like it or not, it may be in the best interest of the MWC to expand past 12. As we know, in conference talk, once you pass the magic threshold of 12, the only logical next step is to bite the bullet, make two 8 team divisions, and go to 16. Mega Conference!
|San Diego State
Once again, UTEP could be the last team in or the last team out. SMU, Houston, Nevada, Fresno State, Tulsa, and even Iowa State will be in the mix.
Well, this is why realignment is fun and scary for Miner fans. We could, hopefully, find a way into the MWC, where most Miner fans feel we belong, but conversely, we could very well find ourselves on the outside looking back in. What we do know, is that if we are left out, we'll make the best of whatever situation we find ourselves in. We didn't think C-USA would work for us. But, as time has passed, the league's grown on us. At least, if these latest reports are true, some deadlines are being set and we'll start getting an idea of what's going to happen sooner than we thought.