Looking 'objectively' at the expansion candidates

Who will the 12th member of the Mountain West be?

"The usual suspects of Utah State, SMU, UTEP and Houston will be brought up as the 12th team, so I guess stay tuned until January when that seems to be when another announcement could be made."

We’ve discussed Houston and UTEP at length, but mostly as advocates for one or the other. In this post I will attempt to look at each of the four potential candidates as objectively as I can. So I sat down and compiled the stats along with some simple pros and cons for each team for side by side comparisons of all four perspective teams. For this discussion I will focus on the comparable aspects of each university with a final miscellaneous section where the intangibles can be compared.

1. History/Tradition

  • Houston Cougars-
    • SWC history with TCU 1967-1996
    • CUSA history with TCU 2001-2005
  • Utah State Aggies-
    • Big West sporadic history with Fresno St, UNLV, Hawaii, Nevada, and Boise St 1978-2001
    • WAC history with new MWC additions since 2005
    • Minor regional history with schools in their neighboring states.
  • UTEP Miners-
    • Border Conference history with New Mexico 1935-1951
    • Skyline Conference history with Utah, BYU, Wyoming, Colorado St, New Mexico 1952-1962
    • WAC history with Utah, BYU, Wyoming, Colorado St, New Mexico 1967-1999
    • Nearly 20 years WAC history with San Diego St, Hawaii, and Air Force from late 70's-2000
    • Minor WAC history with Fresno St, Boise St, Nevada, UNLV, and TCU
  • SMU Mustangs-
    • Major Rivalry with TCU ‘Battle for the Iron Skillet' since 1915
    • SWC/WAC history with TCU 1923-2000
    • WAC history with many of the MWC from 1996-1999

    2. Attendance and school size (hat tip to VA Libertarian and Andy Mac)

    School 09 Enrollment Stadium Size 09 Football 5 Year Avg 09 Basketball 5 Year Avg
    Houston 38,850 32,000 25,242 20,935 3,814 4,326
    Utah St 25,065 25,500 15,971 13,219 9,792 8,804
    UTEP 21,011 51,500 29,010 38,843 8,675 9,125
    SMU 10,693 32,000 21,348 18,078 2,835 2,806

    3. Population/Media Market

    School City, State Population Media Market Size
    Houston Houston, TX 2.26 million #10 Houston
    Utah St Logan, UT 50,000 Closest is #31 SLC
    UTEP El Paso, TX 620,000 #98 El Paso
    SMU Dallas, TX 1.3 million #5 DFW (w/TCU)

    4. Participation in Mountain West Conference Sponsored Sports which include:

    Men's Football, Basketball, Baseball, Track/Cross Country, Swim/Dive, Golf and Tennis

    Women's Volleyball, Basketball, Softball, Track/Cross Country, Swim/Dive, Golf, Tennis and Soccer

    Houston- Sponsors all but M Swim/Dive, M Tennis, W Golf; and no additional sports

    Utah State- Sponsors all but Baseball, M&W Swim/Dive, and W Golf; they also sponsor W Gymnastic

    UTEP- Sponsors all but Baseball, M&W Swim/Dive, M Golf, and M Tennis; they also sponsor W Rifle

    SMU- Sponsors all but Baseball, and Softball; they also sponsor M Soccer, W Rowing and W Equestrian

    5. Academic Ranking

    School US News and World Report World/US Rankings Forbes Washington Monthly
    Houston Tier 2 201-300/90-111 549 237
    Utah St 170 402-501/139-152 191 131
    UTEP Tier 2 NR NR 149
    SMU 56 NR (Private) 109 227

    6. Historical Excellence in Athletics

    Houston- 16 National Championships and 19 M Basketball Tourney Bids

    Utah State- 3 National Championships and 19 M Basketball Tourney Bids

    UTEP- 21 National Championships (1 in Men's Basketball) and 17 M Basketball Tourney Bids

    SMU-78 National Championship (1 in Football) and 10 M Basketball Tourney Bids

    7. Geography/Travel

    View MWC Expansion Candidates in a larger map

    Blue-MW Members; Green-FB only Member; Red-Former Members; Yellow-Potential Members

    School In Footprint? Major Airport? Closest MWC Drive? Time Zone Mountains?
    Houston No Yes TCU-4hr Central No
    Utah St Yes No, SLC 1 ½hrs away Boise St-4½hrs Mountain Yes
    UTEP Yes Yes New Mexico 3½hrs Mountain Yes
    SMU Yes Yes TCU->1hr Central No

    8. Miscellaneous Section (These are arguments or points that I've heard not my opinion)


  • Pros-
  • Recent Football Success- the main point most people point to UH, they believe their recent top 25 rankings and OOC Big Six Victories would help the MWC with its AQ bid.
  • Large Non-MWC Media Market- pretty much self explanatory, if the MWC get to rework its TV deal then adding in a top ten media market could only improve its value.
  • Recruit Rich area- Houston has many top colligate recruits that the MWC team could gain more exposure and access to.
  • Help keep TCU in the MWC by giving it a travel partner, TCU is alone in Texas and adding UH may convince them to stay in the MWC instead of jumping over to the Big East.
  • Potential-the only major university in the area is Rice, so with the large population of Houston and the state of Texas one could see UH becoming a powerhouse academically and athletically.
  • Cons
  • Commuter school-while UH has a large student population, they have a low percentage of attendance at games, many student commute to the school from the suburbs and do not attend athletic events. UH is in the middle of the road academically and falls behind as a research university.
  • Low Local Support-With professional sports like the Texans, Astros, Rockets, Dynamos in town UH has to compete for local relevancy. They also compete with not only Rice but also nearby colligate powerhouses like Texas and Texas A&M. Many believe these are the main reasons for the low local support.
  • WAC 3.0- This expansion would resemble the old 16 team WAC, which may lose some of the nations respect for the MWC and may hurt their bid for the AQ. This also increases travel cost for the non-revenue sports.
  • It will make CUSA mad-while Conference USA hasn't had the same success that the MWC has, it has made some progress with East Carolina, Central Florida, and Houston. By taking one of it best athletic programs and part of its largest media market away the MWC may ruin all chances of staging a joint conference championship game for a BCS bid with CUSA.
  • Utah State-

    • Pros-
    • Solidifies the MWC's footprint- Makes the MWC more identifiable to the casual fan and allows the MWC to retain part of the SLC market in Utah where people have grown accustom to its teams
    • Brings in good academics, research dollars and a championship caliber basketball team into the conference.
    • Will kill help to officially kill the WAC-while it is barely hanging on (and may already be dead) this would guarantee the WAC ‘s demise, LA Tech may not be selected to replace Houston, SMU, or UTEP, also this may allow for enough votes to officially disband the conference and wave the exit fees for Nevada and Fresno St.
    • Keeps CUSA happy-(see Con notes for UH) makes it more likely to stage the bi-CCG.
  • Cons-
  • No major airport, and no close travel partners
  • Not relevant in football (yet), which hurts the MWC's AQ chances. Utah St would be at the bottom of the MWC for years to come and would detract from the overall depth of the conference.
  • Small share of media market- which is dominated by Utah and BYU, Logan is a small city with little national interest.
  • Lacks potential-Utah St is about as big as it will get while its academics and athletics are increasing the university has little room to grow, Logan, UT isn't exactly the most attractive city to live in.
  • UTEP-

    • Pros-
    • History- tradition with MWC schools would make their games more relevant.
    • Large local support-what goes on in El Paso? UTEP football and basketball.
    • Media markets- With Albuquerque and El Paso in the MWC's footprint the only real sports competition in the area is New Mexico State. UTEP would also be a great travel partner for New Mexico.
    • The Hispanic Community- Do you know which FBS schools have the largest Hispanic fan base? Texas, Fresno St, and UTEP. By adding UTEP the MWC could tap into this growing market and gather national support and interest for not only UTEP/Fresno St but also for the conference as a whole.
  • Cons-
  • Academically-is the lowest of these candidates
  • Lack of recent football success-while they are bowl eligible this year, UTEP football over the past few years has been mediocre at best.
  • Makes CUSA mad-they chose UTEP over LA Tech why would they want to give them up for LA Tech?
  • Doesn't add/retain a huge market, like the other candidates (Houston, DFW, SLC).
  • SMU-

    • Pros-
    • Brings TCU's OOC rival into the MWC-which allows TCU an additional OOC game.
    • Give's TCU a local travel partner-which also decrease non-revenue sports travel cost for the other MWC schools.
    • Increased market saturation-Having both TCU and SMU in the MWC would increase interest in the conference in the DFW area, and if TCU leaves for the Big East then the MWC could retain a piece of the DFW market.
    • History of excellence, SMU is one of the oldest elite programs in college football that is not in a major conference.
  • Cons-
  • TCU doesn't want them-according the some of the TCU boards, TCU likes being the big dog in DFW and feels that by adding SMU it may detract from their cache in the region.
  • Small private school-with small alumni base and mediocre football program.
  • Lacks market saturation (yes pro and con)- the DFW market is already sports heavy with the Cowboys, Mavericks, Stars, FC Dallas, Rangers, Longhorns, Aggies, Sooners, Red Raiders, and Horn Frogs; so the Mustangs have little chance of conquering DFW.
  • If TCU jumps to the Big East, SMU would keep the high cost of traveling to DFW, but without the football success.