It appears as though the dust is beginning to settle out West.
The Mountain West Conference, which looked like it would struggle to stay afloat amidst all the conference realignment just a year ago, has now firmly implanted itself in the FBS division landscape for the time being.
When San Diego State announced on January 16 that it would be staying in the Mountain West instead of joining the Big East later this year, the Mountain West officially became a 12-team conference for football starting this coming season.
The Aztecs, perhaps predictably, followed the footsteps of Boise State, who on New Year’s Eve of last year announced that it too would forgo joining the Big East to stay in the conference that makes much more sense geographically for both schools.
Headed by the Broncos, Mountain West commissioner Craig Thompson now has a pretty solid slate of schools that can be counted as full members. Other than Hawaii, which was added as a football-only member to the conference last year, every other school will participate under the MWC umbrella for most of the other sponsored sports (San Diego State and Boise State are an exception for soccer and wrestling, respectively).
With 12 teams for football, the conference has already expressed interest in setting up a conference championship game as early as the 2013 season. According to CBSSports.com’s Dennis Dodd, it is the “full intention” of the Mountain West to split into two divisions and stage a conference title game.
Commissioner Thompson hasn’t made any inclination as to what the two divisions would look like, and made the point not to begin scheduling for the upcoming season after Boise State declared it would stay in the conference, perhaps anticipating the situation. But at any rate, this is a good thing for the conference as a whole.
A conference title game often can only hurt a “Big Six” conference, potentially knocking a team out of national title consideration in the last week of the regular season. In the Mountain West’s case, a conference title game adds another quality victory to the winner’s resume.
Looking at the big picture, a 12-team Mountain West puts some pressure on the committee that oversees the future college football playoff to rethink its initial decision to deny the conference a waiver to automatically qualify for the next two seasons.
In the original plan, five conferences (Big Ten, ACC, SEC, Pac-12 and Big 12) have a built-in partnership with three “contract bowls” that will become part of the equation once the playoff is instituted. Three other “access” bowls will also take the place of the current BCS bowls under the current system.
Under the new system, the sites of the two semifinal playoff games will rotate between the six total bowl games.
If the Mountain West does in fact implement a conference title game, it would become the seventh FBS conference to do so along with the Big Ten, Pac-12, SEC, ACC, MAC and Conference-USA. Four of those other six conferences will have tie-ins to “contract bowls” under the new playoff system. The other two have been relegated to “mid-major” status and have not made any moves to suggest that they will be labeled differently in the near future.
The same cannot be said of the Mountain West. With Boise State, Utah State, San Diego State and Nevada, a quality argument can be made that the MWC is the sixth best conference in FBS division college football. There will be six major bowl games under the playoff system, and five conferences guaranteed a spot in one of those bowls.
Is the math clear enough yet?
Presumably, there will be an open spot in one of those bowls, even if a deal is made with the power conferences to allow two schools from a particular conference to participate in a major bowl.
In other words, the Mountain West may be preparing for a trial period to prove to the bowl executives that it should be included in the partnership to guarantee a team into one of the major bowls.
It’s not too much to ask, really. Guaranteeing a spot in a major bowl game doesn’t guarantee that the Mountain West will get a team into the playoff every season. But it does assure that the conference will see some of the money that will be distributed to teams participating in the biggest bowls, something that is very important, as well.
Since Boise State agreed to a 50/50 split with the conference of any money that is made from playing in a BCS Bowl game, the Broncos have a lot to gain from the potential setup, as well. Assuring the Mountain West a spot in a major bowl lets Boise State know every conference championship is essentially a major payday.
Why would the school ever leave?
The answer to that question is simple: continued change.
The landscape of college football is not done shifting. Several recent moves by conferences such as the Big Ten and ACC suggest that the major players in the sport want to have 16 teams by the time things have completely settled.
Maybe the Pac-12 will reach out to Boise State in the future looking to become a 16-team league. The school’s academic reputation is improving, and if college football ultimately becomes a sport run by four “super-conferences,” that would be the logical destination.
It is likely that Boise State would jump at the opportunity under such circumstances. That is, to remain relevant in college football.
But right now, it’s hard to predict what exactly the changes will be.
So in the current state of things, Boise State (and every other MWC member for that matter) can enjoy stability, favorable revenue deals and the potential for huge bowl payouts if the conference can position itself to be added to the partnership that will be guaranteed a spot in a major bowl.
Put simply, the new look of the Mountain West Conference has the Broncos sitting pretty for the time being.