Reports are coming from the Mountain West office that the league is putting out feelers to Missouri and Kansas to make a twelve team Mountain West.. This is a move to strengthen the league to try to keep up with Pac-10 expansion, maintain/receive BCS status, and a move to convince Utah to not join the soon to be juggernaut Pac-10 conference. Somewhat interesting because it was thought that Kansas and Kansas State were joined at the hip, but apparently that is not the case.
This is a strong move by Craig Thompson and was something he hinted at during his teleconference where Boise State was invited. Adding Kansas and Missouri does raise the profile in football and basketball and that should be enough for the Mountain West to maintain their BCS status -- assuming they receive one for the 2012 season -- as well greatly improve the basketball play, but really it is all about football.
Adding Missouri and Kansas brings in a larger television footprint then Kansas and Kansas State. Kansas owns the state for college sports, and Missouri can bring in the Kansas City, and St. Louis markets which are decent size markets. That extended foot print would help in increasing the revenue since the television deal does have the capability to be renegotiated when teams are added or dropped.
The extra money would in no way be near what Utah would get if they were to receive an invite to join the Pac-10, but the Ute invite is far from being guaranteed. Their is still a chance that Texas A&M could go to the Pac-10 instead of going to the SEC, but the Aggies do have the votes to go to the SEC, plus SEC commissioner Mike Slive is currently in College Station, TX meeting with Aggie officials.
This topic about what was better for Utah was broached a while back in a Pac-12 that included Colorado, and my assumption was that they would be on their way before the ink was dry on the invitation letter. I think the same would be true because if the reports are accurate that a Pac-16 television deal is worth $20 million a year per team is too much money to pass and would be more than Utah's entire revenue from last year, and that does not include bowl money, season tickets or any other revenue. From a competition stand point Utah would still be in the upper tier of the Mountain West even if the league adds Kansas and Missouri and even if the league goes up to 16.
From a competitive stand point in the new Pac-16 the Utes would be in the east division with Colorado, Texas, Texas Tech, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Arizona, and Arizona State. In my attempt to be unbiased Utah could easily jump in and be the third best team in that division, and when you consider the other half of the league only USC is definitely better (NCAA sanctions may decrease the difference).
Now that is not to say that Cal, Oklahoma State, Texas Tech, or Stanford could not beat Utah, but one can not rationally say those teams are definitively better then Utah. Plus, just imagine once Utah starts receiving the bump up in cash, and for being in a BCS league they would be able to shoot up the pecking order like Cincinnati did in a few years and be able to challenge Texas and Oklahoma for a berth to the title game.
Utah could choose to stay in a tougher Mountain West where they would be on top and be able to compete for a BCS bid without being perfect, but a national title shot would still be difficult, and require a perfect season within the current system. Loyalty may have a tiny bit to do with the Utes deciding to stay in the Mountain West if an invite is extended to the Pac-10, but again money trumps all, and I doubt Utah would go the way of the Arizona schools did when they left the WAC in 1978.
The reason for that confidence is because the Utes have had great coaching and their recruiting efforts have been very good at finding athletes and coaching them in the right position. The move to a better league would allow them to use the same process but with more highly rate recruits. My opinion stays the same that if there is an invite Utah will be leaving BYU and the Mountain West behind.
The question is will they get an invite?
The opposition is Kansas and to a lesser extent Texas A&M, because Utah is only in the discussion if the Aggies go West and not to the SEC; then the resume checking will be between Utah and Kansas. In football Utah has an edge with two BCS wins to Kansas' one loan BCS win (where their bid was questionable in the first place) in 2007 under possibly the best team in school history. The Utes have been more consistent this decade and are a known accommodation. Utah is the fastest growing state in the Union with Salt Lake in the mid 30's for their market size while Kansas is about the same but their growth is not as high as Utah's potential, and since conference affiliation is all about making the most money this does matter.
However, the football may not matter because bringing in Texas and Oklahoma is good enough to not worry about bringing in another top flight program, but Kansas basketball could put them over the edge because the Pac-10 last season only earned two bids last year. While Utah has a very strong hoops history under Rick Majerus, but that does not compare to Kansas' history and their current dominance. Hoops could actually be the difference in the decision in choosing Kansas or Utah to joining the new Pac-16.
Craig Thompson is doing exactly what he said he would be doing by adding more teams to make the Mountain West the best league possible, but even adding the rest of the extra Big XII teams and Houston to get to 16 would still have them a step behind the other power leagues.