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Mountain West, Conference USA Merger: An Attempt To Be Relevant

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When the announcement came to dissolve the Mountain West and Conference USA, I immediately thought about how this was an attempt at a new start and negotiate a new television deal. Then when it came out that the new league wanted to expand to 18-24 teams it seemed more like survival in numbers, because any addition is not going to be an on the field upgrade. There have been and will be a thousand jokes about the new league and rightfully so as it stretches from Greenville, N.C. to Honolulu is only 4,860 miles. Also, good luck finding a non-stop flight to most of these locations, and in the Mountain West getting to Laramie, Wyo. was the biggest concern. Now try to get to Hattiesburg, Miss., Birmingham, Ala. or Huntington, W. Va.

So, what is different this time around then the old 16-team WAC that split apart with their quadrant system and extensive travel which ultimately led to the formation of the Mountain West back in 1998 when eight teams broke away.

It would not surprise me if similar quotes will be mentioned again a few years into this new conference:

With Hawaii and the Texas schools separated by about 3,900 miles and four time zones, travel costs were a tremendous burden for WAC teams. The costs, coupled with lagging revenue and a proposed realignment that would have separated rivals such as Colorado State and Air Force, created unrest among the eight defecting schools.


''If you're looking for reasons for today's decision, they'd definitely have to be linked to the financial impact that 16 schools have had - or the lack of financial impact,'' [WAC Commissioner]Benson said. ''My biggest challenge was to create a financial source that was enough to satisfy 16 mouths. Obviously we weren't able to do that. ... To give it two years is unfortunate.''

Or this more recent quote about 16-team leagues:

"There wasn't enough money at that time to satisfy 16 mouths so to speak," WAC Commissioner Karl Benson said Tuesday. "A 16-team WAC failed from within, not from the outside. There wasn't enough money to go around, and there was jealousy about who contributed more to the overall value. The 16-team WAC had geographical issues and academic disparities."

The old 16-team WAC figured they had good markets with Rice (Houston), TCU/SMU (Dallas), Colorado State/Air Force (Denver) and San Jose State (Bay area). That was flawed logic because in those markets those schools are well behind other schools and pro teams.

I know with more channels to broadcast sports like ESPN, FOX, CBS and Comcast the need for live sports programming is in high demand so money may be there to satisfy these teams. If the league stays at 16 then to make it worth wild the television contract would need to be about $2 million per team. That is just above what the Mountain West teams get, or $32 million per year. I just don't know if that can be reached, but to do so they need to have a television deal in place where a lot of their games are broadcast. Plus, with extensive travel that number may need to be closer to $3 million per school.

A conference television network should be put in place, which is why The Mtn. should just rebrand because it has the distribution with DirecTV in the leagues footprint and likely would increase their coverage area to get the channel in the area of the new schools. So, that would be the first thing to do, but make that channel host the lower tier games such as New Mexico vs. UAB for football and then put the better games on with a more prominent network. Also, placing games online would be a smart idea as well in addition to their television broadcast. This is a much better idea then starting a network from scratch and show more basketball and non-revenue sports.

If the league is to get to 24 teams and add the luxurious markets of Logan, Utah, Las Cruces, N.M., Ruston, La. or Miami with the grab of Florida International how much money do those markets really add. Answer: Not a lot. Just because there are a lot of games that can be offered does not mean people will watch. If a league getting to 16 or more then why did the Pac-12 turn down Oklahoma and Oklahoma State a few months back. In their case the Pac-12 was getting a national brand in Oklahoma and a good Oklahoma State team, so having numbers does not equal money.

I guess it does say something that games can be played between 12 p.m. ET to 12 a.m. ET with every time zone in America available at their disposal, but do people care about mid-major football with very few if any marquee teams, nope.

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