The Big 12 is moving along by exploring expansion and the Mountain West has a few teams that are being discussed to join the Power Five league.
Mountain West commissioner Craig Thompson spent a lot of time on the topic during his state of the conference address on the first day of Mountain West media days.
“A number of Mountain West institutions have expressed interest in looking at Big 12 membership,” said Thompson. “What’s going to happen? Nobody has any idea. ... No idea on what the timetable might be. No idea if if affects a current Mountain West member. We’re all playing this game that some people have said is similar to a sweepstakes.”
Thompson would not specifically identify what schools have interest in the Big 12, but did say two teams told him they plan to send info to the Big 12. There is also no reason to block Mountain West teams from trying to leave as Thompson has given permission for the Big 12 to talk to Mountain West schools.
The Mountain West had a vote about raising the exit fee to $10 million in May, but the presidents voted 6-4 against doing the increased fee (two schools were not there to vote).
“Six people did not want it,” Thompson said. “I get that because they’re saying our aspirations, our alumni, our board of trustees, our governor, our boosters, our ticket-(holders), our alumni, everybody wants us to be in the highest position possible, so why would we hinder ourselves if that opportunity ever came up.
“… You cannot go handcuff and force an institution in the same situation if they have an opportunity to leave. I don’t care if it’s a $25 million payout.”
The logic is to avoid bad blood or a lengthy and expensive lawsuits similar to what some other leagues and teams have done to leave for an new conference.
While the Mountain West does not want to hurt current members who do not want to be there the league is not standing pat. This conference has been fairly proactive when it comes to conference realignment — outside of not adding Boise State earlier — and it is possible that the Mountain West could even grow.
“We could look beyond 12 (schools),” Thompson said. “This membership/expansion door swings both ways. This week I’ve had more than one and less than five institutions reach out to me and say, ‘Can we be in the Mountain West Conference?’ ”
Those five teams are not all that hard to peg and they are most likely coming from the Texas schools of Conference USA, but that is pure speculation. Thompson did add that the league has not moved beyond the "philosophical" discussion on moving to 14 teams.
Thompson was specifically asked about Wichita State joining the league, but he did say that having a football program is “important.”
"I don't imagine the highest candidacy being a program that doesn't play football," Thompson said.
It should be noted that the Shockers did a football feasibility study about restarting their football program by the start of the next decade.
The Mountain West currently has a bylaw that members must play football to be in the league, so an exemption would have to be made if any teams leave for the Big 12 as football-only options.
Conference realignment is a fickle beast but if we are to believe that the Big 12 plans on making a decision in either September or October there will not be a lot of waiting around to see what the Mountain West may have to do. For now, all the league can do is work on various potential plans to make a move as early as possible.