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Mountain West, Conference USA Merger: One Question, Why?

The plan was to write my thoughts about the Conference USA and  Mountain West alliance Friday evening after it happened, but then I thought better of it to gather my thoughts and not put something that was thrown together. I still think it is a terrible idea and does nothing to keep teams from joining the Big East or any other BCS league. There are two reports out there that the Houston Cougars have an invite to join the Big East, and that they will jump on that as soon as possible, so one team is already on their out of the 22-team alliance. Look for the SMU Mustangs and Central Florida Knights out as well.  Boise State is still not sure on what they will be doing and there are conflicting reports about what Air Force will do.

Air Force looks to be heading out since they wanted the Big East to increase the exit fee from $5 million to $10 million as a condition on joining as a football-only member. To say this alliance is a way to get teams to stay is a farce, and by using shiny words as innovation and bigger is better did nothing to convince myself this will succeed to the level that these two league commissioners think it will.

During the teleconference there are three things that stood out:

1. BCS bid for cross-championship game has not been discussed.
2. Title game still needs approval.
3. No new television deals.


Image via Saturday Blitz.

The first on the list is at the very best a long shot, because quantity does no always equal quality and the quality at the top may not always warrant a BCS bid. History has shown that an undefeated Mountain West team has made a BCS bowl game, so combining with a league that brings on more bad teams then good how could a BCS bid be extended. Even if a sixth BCS bowl is created it would make more sense to remove the two-team league limit than it would to give a bid to this alliance champion.

Craig Thompson admitted that they have not had discussion with BCS executive director Bill Hancock about this alliance securing a BCS bid. Those discussions may not go down for awhile since the current BCS contract expires in three years at the end of the 2014 bowl season, so their priority would be to negotiate a new television deal and at least have discussions about restructuring the system.

In short, there will be a long wait before that is even discussed.

The second point is that during the early stages of these discussions it was always mentioned that there would be a game between the two champions. Yet again, that is not set in stone and could not happen, because there will need to be legislature in place to allow this playoff-style game. While it would be nice to see Southern Miss or SMU take on Boise State or San Diego State for a title game, but without anything on the line it is just another exhibition game just like the bowl season is.

Also, if there is a title game that would bring in some much needed revenue the two leagues crave, how much could they really get. Just to work in round numbers, if a cross-over game is worth $10 million that is not a lot of money when split 22 ways. That would come out to be $454,454.54 and that is if each school gets an equal share and no extra amount given to the two schools who actually play in this game. That is not really enough to make this worth it, but extra money is extra money. That amount is about one-third of the current Mountain West television deal, so that would bump up teams annual television revenue above $2 million per year.

Some thought with this merger there would be a new or restructured television deal, but since the Mountain West and Conference USA will still operate as their own league the conferences will retain their own television deal. So those who thought the two leagues would restructure a television contract, well not so much. Each league will keep their current deal in place which means the Mtn. is still in play. So there will not be any financial incentive with a new television deal pooling the two leagues teams together. This is key because Conference USA commissioner Britton Banowsky said that television networks want more inventory of live games, but that does not matter at this time since each league still has television contracts through 2016. Currently, the Mountain West still has four years left which runs through 2016 on their current television deal between The Mtn., CBS Sports Network and NBC Sports.

Conference USA signed a television deal with FOX Sports back in January of 2011 and it runs through 2016. The conference title game is on ESPN due to legal action that was taken against Conference USA since ESPN was not given a chance to make an offer against the final offer that FOX Sports made. They also have a deal with CBS Sports Network through 2016.

So, there could be some type of combined television deal by then and between multiple networks, but that is still years away and the dollar amount still would not reach even the Big East level. Without any clue of what the value of this alliance will be in a few years and there is no financial incentive for the teams who have pending invites to the Big East to wait and see what the money could be.

My big question is very simple is why do this now?

There is nothing in place to make any of these schools to be excited to form this alliance. No BCS bid, no increase of revenue and no title game between these two leagues.

One assumption that could be made that each league will lose multiple teams and then the league will be whittled down and then create one super-conference league that would be football-only. At the present there are 22 teams and if all five teams who reportedly have invites do join the Big East that would drop the alliance to 17 teams with eight in the Mountain West and Conference USA down to nine teams. Then maybe their could be one league, but that East Carolina to Hawaii road trip would be brutal.

This is a bold and innovative idea but so was New Coke or more appropriately the 16-team WAC that was doomed from the start, and both failed miserably. This alliance makes no sense and it seems that this idea while being discussed for over a year they really got nothing accomplished outside of this announcement of an alliance. The spin was to try to stay a step ahead of the 16-team super conferences, but with 16-team leagues not currently in the future there was no real reason to go forward with this at the present time. At the very least have a game between the two leagues in place before announcing this to everyone and having a television partner for that would not even be necessary at the time.

Making something bigger and better, but having no plan in place or any financial gains at this time will not keep teams from jumping to the Big East which is not stable. At the very least the Big East would offer them more money for at least a few years if the league falls apart, but if Big East thrives then the teams that make the jump made a great business decision.

There is nothing in place with this alliance to keep teams from leaving.

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