In a span of six months the Mountain West had a potential league that would have rivaled nearly any BCS league outside of the SEC by having four legit top 25 teams. However, little by little the league was picked apart by the Pac-10 taking Utah, Comcast not honoring a deal with BYU and now TCU leaving to the Big East. So far, the Mountain West has added a few solid mid-level teams since their original move of adding Boise State.
They have added Nevada, Fresno State and expected to add Hawai'i soon. None of those teams pop in terms of the length of accomplishments that Utah, BYU and TCU have had. Hawai'i is the closest since they have won WAC titles in the past and went to a BCS bowl game a few years ago.
What went wrong?
A lot of people are blaming the Mountain West television deal for the reason all three schools left and while that is prominent in why BYU left, but ultimately no having a college football playoff is why TCU and Utah left. Remember, BYU left but outside of getting more money they are actually in a worse situation in terms of the BCS because they do not have any special arrangement to get an automatic berth. They will be an at-large team only unless they make it in the top two. Money and access is the issue; TCU and Utah no longer have to go undefeated to get into the BCS but just have to win their league.
If there was a playoff that included all leagues there would be less of a reason to jump ship. There would be more money given to all the leagues since a playoff would provide equal money to all teams and then more money the farther a team advances. The regular season conference television deals would be a big difference, as they are now, but given equal access all of this league hoping would be much less.
Looking back, the Mountain West should have gone after Boise State after they beat Oklahoma in the 2006 Fiesta Bowl and while Boise State may not have had the same success with undefeated seasons (nor might have Utah or TCU) but the league would have had three or four teams in the top 25. Even if they did not add two other teams to get to 12 for a title game the league would have been strong. Instead, Craig Thompson waited, and waited and waited to add Boise State this summer when only one year of their stats within the Mountain West would would count toward the BCS qualification status while their three prior years in the WAC would also count.
Utah may have left regardless if the Mountain West achieved AQ status, but BYU and TCU may have stayed since they would be gaining extra money from the BCS and possibly a reworked television deal. BYU almost certainly would have stayed had Comcast honored a verbal agreement which allowed BYU to rebroadcast games that were not shown on The Mtn.
I think had Boise State been added years earlier then perhaps TCU and BYU would have stayed in the Mountain West.
So what is next?
Once the conference shuffling finishes up the Mountain West will have nine basketball schools and 10 football schools. Craig Thompson has vaguely mentioned future members. The Mountain West, in my opinion, has four options to adding football members. UTEP and Utah State or Houston and SMU. Houston and SMU would be a better option to increase the leagues profile, while adding UTEP and Utah State would kill the WAC and reunite UTEP with their old rivals from the pre-16 team WAC. Utah State would help keep The Mtn. on a basic cable tier in the state of Utah which is a plus since there are almost two million people in the state.
Houston and SMU have more potential due to the market size, but they are so low on the pecking order it may not be worth it to spread the league that far again.
Now, should the Mountain West add these teams. The landscape of college football could be different in another five years, and who knows if the super conferences will actually form as they almost did this summer. If the Mountain West wants to go to 12 teams, just do it already and do not sit on their hands and wait years to add teams. Go ahead and invite teams by this summer so that in 2012 the league can get a title game.
Now by adding two more full fledge members, the Mountain West then has 11 basketball teams. Twelve teams would be nice and there are three choices for the league to get: Seattle, Denver and Utah Valley State University. Seattle and Utah Valley State are basketball independents and would love to join a league and getting Denver would require them to renege on their deal to join the WAC. There has been some talk of Gonzaga, but that is not an option, because the West Coast Conference is a lot of small religious schools where the Mountain West is a bunch of state schools out side of Air Force.
Denver or UVSU would be the better choices since they are in the leagues footprint while Seattle is no where near the other schools in the league. I would put my money on Denver of UVSU and out of those two I would take Denver. The Mountain West could change again in the next few years, especially if they want to become a 12 team league.