Navy, the Big East and the "giant sucking sound"

[Bumped to the front page.]

Some of us are old enough to remember the presidential election of 1992. Instead of only having the usual milk toast, two party candidates, the US voter was treated to a third party candidate, who actually got enough votes to put a scare into the establishment: Ross Perot. One of Ross Perot's most famous quips was about jobs leaving the US for Mexico, as NAFTA was being discussed... he called it the "giant sucking sound" of jobs being outsourced south of the border.

Fast forward to the present day to Jeremy Mauss' article in the Mountain West Connection, in regard to the expected announcement of Navy's imminent inclusion in the Big East as a football only member. For the Big East, this is a solid addition, one that keeps it's non-football members happy and one that pulls a military, academic institution into it's ranks.

What the members of the MW are beginning to hear is becoming all too familiar: Ross Perot's giant sucking sound. It is the sound of yet another team, as Jeremy Mauss astutely pointed out, being sucked out of the MW, further depleting its membership and lowering it's quality of left-over teams. Air Force, which had previously spurned the advances of the Big East, now has a familiar dancing partner set to join in 2015. With the departure of WVU to the Big XII, the Big East is at only 11 "permanent" football members and the Air Force Academy would be a great match with Navy. The inclusion of AF into the Big East would also give the western teams another travel partner, closer than going all the way to Storrs or New Brunswick. Additionally, if the Big East sticks with an 8 game conference schedule, then AD Hans Mueh could potentially schedule CSU and Wyoming out of conference.

Is that the last time that the member institutions of the Mountain West will hear the dreaded giant sucking sound? It is unlikely, as there is at least one more institution looking around at greener pastures. Why isn't the MW working harder and more transparently to confront these issues? How would/will the alliance keep this from happening, as it has done absolutely nothing to stave off the five previous defections (SMU, Houston, UCF, BSU and SDSU)?

With this latest potential defection, the Mountain West becomes an even less attractive partner for the C-USA. Commissioner Thompson looks more ineffective with every loss. There is, by the way, a petition to fire CT, for those interested. The petition cites that it is CT's negotiation of a contract with CBS Sports, that has killed the MW, which is partially true. Looking at the numbers of AQ conferences vs Non-AQ and the contracts offered by TV networks, what becomes clear is that there are very separate dynamics, which are driving university brand sales, recognition and overall marketshare.

AQ conferences, with bigger name institutions, can draw from a larger fan bases with fewer schools. That is because these marquis brands transcend regular borders and have increased marketshare based on factors other than alumni status and proximity. Case in point, The University of Texas has great numbers of fans who live in Arkansas, Oklahoma and around the country, even if these fans are not alumni or from the Austin area. How does a university, such as New Mexico, Wyoming or Nevada compare? In short... they don't. Yet the MW alone or the MW/C-USA alliance are using an economic model for success based on the ideas of Chuck Neinas, who is said to be coaching CT and BB.

For the Mountain West conference to be able to get a real TV contract, Craig Thompson has to begin to handle more directly, forcefully, intelligently and more transparently. The Mountain West conference is partially in the back yard of two pit bulls: the Pac 12 and the Big XII. How does a mid major increase marketshare and market penetration with these two behemoths jealously guarding their territories? The Mountain West will not be able to get any heavy hitters, so it has to go for more, smaller markets to make up for the lack of size of each one. That is all that is available. By not moving to secure more markets in a timely fashion (the time actually passed), Commissioner Thompson has almost assured the MW of shrinking market share and shrinking membership. The MW cannot afford to follow in the model of a Big XII or Pac 12, or it will continue to hemorrhage members to conferences, which can.

The C-USA is not in as bad of a position as the MW, from a membership standpoint, as it isn't losing its champion, yet. The C-USA also has a better set of potential additions, than what is available to the MW. While the alliance has been an intriguing idea since its inception, it is working against sound principal: Why should someone on the west coast be interested in watching a team on the east coast, if there is only a slight chance the two will meet in a championship game, in a very arbitrary conference connection, at a future date? Would a MW fan sit down and care to watch, for example, an ECU vs. Southern Miss game? The same is true when viewed from an east coast perspective: would a C-USA fan care to watch Fresno State vs. CSU? The answer is really plain. These games are only going to be viewed by institutional fans (regional support) or if there is no other game on (Wednesday or Thursday nights). If Texas/Oklahoma is on, there will be very little national viewership for a MW/C-USA game.

The answer is, then, to create more regional support, in more, new markets and to make a TV deal for the MW, that will allow for some visibility and increased funding for all member institutions. As things stand, what reason would ESPN (if ESPN, there is a small chance to grant BYU LHN-like rights and a conference slot) have for purchasing the rights to an eight team, second tier conference? Eight teams, spread out over very large distances, with no marquis teams left (Seven if AF leaves and counting). The TV markets are too far apart and not fully saturated (Denver, Salt Lake, etc). Why should ESPN spend the money to buy out CBS Sports for such small market share?

In order to add stability, to increase marketshare and to add an incentive for a new TV contract, the MW needs to offer a more attractive package to a network provider. At present, the eight team league MW (10 for one year), with no big city markets, played 7 conference games in 2011 and had an overall winner without a championship game. The MW, with 16 permanent members, in two divisions, would also play seven conference games and 1 championship game. Having more teams in the general footprint of the present conference would help"fill it in" and generate more viewership. The problem is that in going from an eight team league to a 16 team league, the commissioner would have to be able to sell a network on a league that in essence doesn't yet exist, otherwise the Mtn.'s inability to raise enough money to pay each member would be potentially decrease revenues by 1/2.

The candidates for expansion have been debated endlessly, on this site and others. At this point, if CT and his cronies do not solve this problem now, there might not be much to solve in the future. If AF stays in the conference, which is 50/50 at present, then the MW needs eight teams to become/stay relevant and have a package to sell to a network. The MW must be willing to make concessions and play some Wednesday and Thursday night games, only after a bye. Could "the Hair" sell ESPN on an ESPN West and an ESPN East, like it's parent company Disney Corporation has? If AF does indeed follow Navy to the Big East, then having 15 remaining teams adds a great deal of stability, which is currently not present. 1/8 is a more severe blow than 1/16. If another team were to leave with the Air Force Academy (yes there are rumors swirling around), that would leave only 6 teams, and the conference becomes unviable, meaning teams would have to be added just to get to minimum participation levels according NCAA rules. The question for CT, the member institutions and the fans: why let it get that bad? Why not be proactive for once? If the ACC and SEC are at 14, rumored to be headed to 16, why wait around for the Big XII model to work itself out? How did that help OK St. this year? Follow the lead dogs, not the others: they are the competition.

So, do you agree with 16 teams in order to have a package to sell to a provider, given the teams the MW has to work with? Do you believe that a national model, vs a regional model would work better (C-USA/MW alliance)? Will AF leave the MW and push this agenda forward? Would you prefer an 8, 10, 12, 14, 16, or more, team single conference model, Why (Alliance currently has 17)? Does the MW have viability to go it alone? If you are for expansion, what teams do you think the MW needs to invite and why? Here's probably what's left (North / South Preferred):


AF, CSU, Idaho, Wyoming, Fresno State, San Jose State, Utah State, Nevada


North Texas, La Tech, UTEP, Texas State, Hawaii/DU, UNLV, New Mexico, New Mexico State



AF, CSU, UNLV, North Texas, La Tech, UTEP, Wyoming, Texas State


Hawaii/DU, Fresno State, San Jose State, Nevada, Idaho, Utah State, New Mexico, New Mexico State

What to do if the MW loses AF, or more? Pray? Montana and Montana State would be about all that would potentially be available. The idea of having DU fill in for Hawaii, in other sports, helps with market saturation in the Denver area and the institutions has excellent academics. Texas schools, other than UTEP, added for recruiting purposes and for markets. The MW would be the only conference with viable teams in both California and Texas markets, a potential selling point.

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