Earlier in the year, we published an article on why the Mountain West should keep San Jose State. In this edition of Peak Perspective, we are going to look at a different scenario: contradiction. It is something that rarely happens in college athletics (unless you are the University of Idaho). Mike Wittmann and I (Zach Ballard) are going to look at some reasons the Mountain West should consider contracting and what teams might be candidates.
A true champion can be crowned
Zach: One of the biggest issues with going to division is unbalanced scheduling. Last season was a perfect example of this. Boise State faced Fresno State, San Diego State, and Nevada from the West Division. All three of those teams were bowl teams. Utah State faced UNLV, San Jose State, and Hawaii, the bottom three teams in the West. While Boise State still won the Mountain Division, that was not the case in 2013 when the Broncos went undefeated in their own division, but Utah State represented the Mountain because of an easier schedule. A round robin schedule will allow the best teams to square off in the championship game.
Mike: The way the MWC scheduling does the cross-division games, teams can benefit or suffer based on the current rotation. It’s basically two years of the toughest possible schedule and two years of a easier schedule. When the Big XII came out with their “one true champion” based off or round-robin scheduling, eyes rolled at the sound of it. However, there is something to be said for the two best having to play everyone to get into the championship game. It would also preserve the long-standing rivalries on an annual basis.
It is no longer necessary for a conference championship game
Zach: I think the expansion to twelve was the reaction to wanting a conference championship game. Twelve teams are no longer needed. Is there still a benefit to having twelve teams if it is not required? I don’t think so...
Mike: This was the whole reason for conference expansion in the first place, correct? The MWC had to reach a bit during the last round of realignment and perhaps now the pendulum is going the other way with getting rid of a team or two if it isn’t necessary.
Will help with strength of schedule arguments
Zach: Mike wrote an excellent article comparing the Mountain West and American Conferences (see it here). One of the strongest arguments the American has is that they are better from top to bottom. I think that’s fair. Would that argument still be valid if the Mountain West got rid of teams like San Jose State and New Mexico?
Mike: The best case scenario almost happened during the 2018 season. The MWC would love to have three 10-win teams in the conference with one of those teams being undefeated (at least in conference play). The former happened but not the latter. Anyway, the idea is for one team to be the best while complimented by other strong teams. That’s how the SEC gets multiple bids in a 4-team playoff. Playing every team every year prioritizes the best teams playing one another and that gives every team the best strength of schedule within the conference.
Increases chances of getting G5 Bid
Zach: This all goes back to the strength of schedule argument. The stronger the schedule, the more likely the committee is to consider you for a New Year’s Six bowl game. Does Boise State or Fresno State benefit from playing San Jose State? Probably not.
Mike: This is what it’s all about at the end of the day and every decision should be made with this in mind. A ranked team playing a bottom-feeder serves no purpose. Either the better team wins and it lowers their SOS or they get upset and it ruins their resume for the GO5 bid.
Will help with scheduling
Zach: I like the idea of going to nine conference games. It is common for Mountain West teams to have one non-conference game against an FCS foe. Going to nine conference games will result in fewer FCS games on the schedule and, in turn, will lead to Mountain West teams having a stronger strength of schedule.
Mike: Teams can still get their P5 payout games or their quality out of conference matchups but it’s becoming more difficult each season to not fill the schedule with FCS teams. I really do enjoy non-conference games but getting those out of conference boosts still helps with the strength of schedule argument as well.
Increases the importance of each game
Zach: With divisions gone, every game becomes more important. In the past, you knew your team could lose an out of division game as long as it took care of business within the division. Every game will have an impact, especially early season games.
Mike: Echoing Zach above, there is something to be said for every game mattering every year. Divisions can sometimes be arbitrary and at times get in the way of rivalries and the best potential games season to season.
Candidates for contraction
San Jose State
Why they should go
Zach: In my opinion, San Jose State is the most obvious candidate. They have struggled to be consistently competitive in any of the major sports. They are consistent bottom feeders in both basketball and football. The Spartans would be a natural fit in the Big Sky or Big West. They were added because of their market size, but do the Spartans have a large national following? Not really.
Mike: It’s not personal San Jose State but it is definitely the obvious answer. Unfortunately, they aren’t bringing anything to the table. Again, nothing personal for the other teams, but Hawaii and New Mexico should feel warm in their seats. Rolo has done great with program but travel will always be a concern. New Mexico doesn’t care about their football program and now their basketball program has been going south.
Why they should stay
Zach: Market size and location. San Jose is one one of the fastest growing cities in California and has a sizeable market. If the Spartans can ever build a consistent program, they could potentially bring a lot of attention to the Mountain West.
Mike: They make sense regionally, are in a good TV market, and the city is good for exposure. If they ever really invested in their athletics, combined with a solid recruiting area, things could turn around.
Why they should go
Zach: The athletic department is a mess. They have put themselves in such a financial hole that they have been forced to keep Bob Davie as their football coach. I could see a scenario where the Lobos drop football and try to salvage the rest of their athletic programs.
Mike: Have you heard about their athletic department lately? It’s in shambles. The football team is a doormat most years and though basketball remains popular, they have fallen from grace. Going back to their athletic department, the future of some of their sports are murky and the MWC needs stability.
Why they should stay
Zach: Basketball tradition. The Lobos have one of the coolest basketball environments in the Mountain West and a supportive fan base. With that being said, they really don’t care about football all that much, and their attendance numbers back that up. Could the Lobos try to become the next Gonzaga? A school that puts all of their resources into basketball makes sense to me. It might be mutually beneficial if the Mountain West kept the Lobos Olympic sports if they got rid of football.
Mike: Their storied basketball program is their saving grace at the moment, although even that is faltering. Their fans are very invested into the men’s hoops team. Football isn’t offering much but it’s worth another shot with a younger coach who isn’t just cycling through JUCO players. With the right hire they can probably get to the point where they can be mediocre on an annual basis.
Why they should go
Zach: If you ignore results, Hawaii is the most obvious contraction candidate. It is a jet lag nightmare for visiting teams and they aren’t as consistent as they once were. Plus, their football program is the only sport in the Mountain West. Hawaii would be the cleanest “breakup.”
Mike: Money, plain and simple. First, the logistics for the rest of the conference is quite the headache. Then, the school doesn’t throw a ton of money into their athletic program, which handicaps them a bit. Finally, being football only means the door is always open for an exit.
Why they should stay
Zach: The biggest reason is the bowl game. The Mountain West is already struggling with bowl tie-ins, and losing Hawaii might put that game at risk. Also, Hawaii has a pretty rich football tradition and plays an exciting brand of football. When the team is good, they get plenty of media attention.
Mike: Hawaii looks like they will be an average or better football program for the foreseeable future, and will be competitive as long as they have their run-and-shoot offense. The travel is annoying but it’s also decent recruiting tool for the Warriors (and appealing with recruits of other MWC schools). Plus the bowl game, which is an attractive destination.
Is this even plausible?
Zach: Probably not. Recently, Idaho was forced to move their football program from the Sun Belt to the Big Sky, but Idaho in the Sun Belt never made sense in the first place. The Sun Belt never really contracted; they just replaced Idaho. While I think it would make a lot of sense, I don’t see it happening.
Mike: As I like to say, never say never in the world of college football. There is a precedent now with the Sun Belt kicking out Idaho and New Mexico State, but it will still take a lot for it to actually happen.