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Mountain West expansion rumors heat up regarding Rice, UTEP

The MWC seems to have rumblings year in and year out, but will they ever gain any traction?

Michael C. Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

Ahead of the Mountain West Conference's meeting of athletic directors and presidents in Phoenix this weekend, CBS Sports' Dennis Dodd says that we can expect the conference's powers-that-be to pick up the expansion discussion once more.

If Dodd's sources are to be believed, the Mountain West is interested in expanding its footprint into Texas, with much of the attention centered on Rice University and the University of Texas-El Paso. Rice, based in Houston, is generally regarded as one of the top academic institutions in the country, having ranked in a tie for 18th in the most recent National University Rankings from U.S. News and World Report (and 5th among those in the FBS).

On the field, 2014-15 has treated the Owls' various programs roughly, but many of them have had a recent history of success: Before the football team fell to 5-7 this season, David Bailiff's team enjoyed an unprecedented three-year streak of reaching bowls and won the C-USA title in 2013, their first outright claim in nearly fifty years. The men's and women's basketball teams reached postseason tournaments in 2011-12, and Wayne Graham's baseball teams have been an NCAA power since at least the turn of the 21st century.

UTEP's recent accolades as an institution for higher learning may come as more of a surprise, but as Dodd notes, Washington Monthly ranked the campus 10th in its most recent iteration. More specifically, UTEP ranked #1 with regards to social mobility and has done so four years in a row.

As far as its athletics are concerned, UTEP's football suffered a similar downturn to 5-7 in 2015, but it comes on the heels of a New Mexico Bowl berth in 2014. The men's basketball team, under head coach Tim Floyd, made the NIT last season and the CBI the year before that, in 2013-14, while the women's team suffered a narrow loss in the NIT championship that same season.

As Dodd notes, however, there's a large gap between talks and action, and his sources say that no action is imminent. There are financial stipulations in expanding from 12 schools to 14, and there are always other rumors to consider, such as the never ending "will they or won't they" regarding BYU.

Even Alex Nicolas from Miner Rush, SB Nation's UTEP-centric, sounds lukewarm on the possibility, referring to the latest round of rumor as a "here-we-go-again moment". Though a conference switch makes geographic sense for both schools, a more agreeable television deal (which Dodd mentions expires after this academic year) may convince them to stay.