The “power conferences” have been working toward distancing themselves from the other FBS teams within the NCAA for some time now. Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby said recently the SEC, Big 10, Big 12, AAC, and Pac-12 would like to have their own “federation” within the NCAA framework. In preparation for a post-BCS world, those conferences have been acquiring more control over bowl access and pushing for scheduling alliances that exclude FBS teams from outside the elite conferences.
In the 2014 bowl lineup, ESPN reported that a minimum of 19 of the 35 bowls will be pitting Power 5 conferences against each other and number could go even higher. That is the same year the American Athletic Conference champion will be downgraded from BCS to facing a Power 5 bottom feeder in a mediocre bowl. Yes, the former Big East has been downgraded because it has lost most of their premium teams, but also consider that the Mountain West now suddenly finds itself in a similar bowl situation. The Pac-12 has downgraded the Las Vegas bowl from their No. 5 team to their No. 7 to face the MW champion.
That should be considered as an outright insult to the Mountain West Conference.
From a business and professional point of view the MWC should consider a downgrade of its own. It would make sense to furnish the No. 2 or No. 3 MW team to play the No. 7 Pac-12 and send the MW champion against a more prestigious and better bowl opponent. One idea that has been around for some time now is a call for an American-MW Champions Bowl or East-West Champions Bowl---call it whatever you like. It would pit the AAC No. 1 against the MWC No. 1 in a matchup of conference champions from both sides of the country. In the event a team from either conference qualifies for the automatic berth in one of the six access bowls they could send their No. 2 to the bowl championship game.
According to both the AAC and MW commissioners, the two leagues are in need of, or considering, another bowl tie-in for 2014 and beyond. The newly proposed Christmas Bowl in Los Angeles is available for a matchup between the AAC and MW. It might be necessary to create a rotating bowl that alternates yearly between an eastern and western location. For example, a showdown in the Christmas Bowl one year and the following year the game could be played in the new bowl that AAC commissioner Mike Aresco has advocated in south Florida. Any game between the two conference champions would be of interest nationally as an East-West face-off and rival the individual conference championship games of both leagues. Marketed right it could easily compete with or surpass in national and network appeal many of the Power 5 bowls such as the Sun Bowl, Kraft Hunger Bowl, and Belk bowls.
It seems ludicrous that the MW and the AAC do not meet in at least one bowl game. The fan rivalry between the two conferences is already there and it would be easy to tap into. Perhaps now is the time for both leagues to set aside any personal differences and embrace each other as the best two conferences not among the power conferences---especially if the split happens with the Power 5.
It's possible that MW commissioner Craig Thompson is already out in front of all this. He told the press at the Mountain West media days last Tuesday that a sixth bowl the MW is considering is likely to be located in the Southeast. He also stated the league is moving away from slotting for bowls the MW is contracted with and going to a pool system that would allow better matchups and easier travel.
Sounds like a recipe for an American-MW bowl game to me. But at the very least it sounds like he intends to offer our conference champion a more prestigious and attractive bowl opponent than a No. 7 Pac-12 team. And that sounds good, too.