Texas and Oklahoma sent shockwaves across the college sports landscape when they announced they were leaving the Big 12 for the SEC. The aftershocks are now being felt in other conferences as the Big 12 looks for members to replace its two biggest programs.
This past week, the Big 12 unanimously voted to add BYU, Cincinnati, Houston, and UCF. And reports have surfaced that Memphis and current Mountain West member Boise State could also be heading to the Big 12 as full members too.
If those reports are true, and the Broncos do end up leaving for the Big 12, it will obviously be a big loss for the Mountain West, losing its best football program and a solid basketball program that was on the bubble for the NCAA Tournament last year.
But, with all the recent shuffling and rumors about teams moving conferences, it would be a huge sigh of relief to the conference if they only lost one full-time member. And with the American Athletic Conference appearing to fall apart, there is an opportunity for the Mountain West to look at adding some potential new members that can bolster the conference from a basketball perspective.
Looking at football, there are no serious members that can be added to lift the conference to a competitive level closer to the other power conferences. But the Mountain West can elevate itself by being aggressive in adding some members to try and help restore the conference to where it once was.
The Mountain West needs to come up with a plan so they are not left behind as other teams and conferences evaluate the ever-changing landscape and look for ways to get better.
The main priority for the Mountain West right now is to look at ways to become a better basketball conference. In football, the rich are getting richer, with Texas and Oklahoma moving to the SEC and the Big 12 gobbling up the top AAC teams. This means the gap between the Power Five and the Group of Five will only continue to grow, so the Mountain West should place all on trying to be the best basketball conference they can be.
The Mountain West released a statement last week about the current state of realignment. It was a basic statement you would expect from a conference during these times, but you have to expect behind the scenes, everyone is working as hard as they can to try and create a plan for adding new members and if they lose members. Luckily, I have outlined a plan for the Mountain West to take if more drastic changes happen.
The first step for the Mountain West would be to add SMU and Tulsa as full-time members. After Cincinnati, Houston, UCF, and Memphis (who is only speculated as moving to the Big 12), the Mustangs and Golden Hurricanes are the next two best programs in the AAC.
They bolster football and fill the void left by Boise State, but they are also both solid basketball programs that finish about .500 on an almost yearly basis. And both programs should get better by stepping into the Mountain West after the AAC has been significantly better in recent years.
Adding both these programs will help the Mountain West get a footprint in the midwest, and in SMU’s case, get inside Texas near a major city, Dallas. And they can also help serve as travel partners to another team the Mountain West should be actively pursuing.
The next step, and the most obvious step to take, is to do everything possible to work at adding both Gonzaga and Wichita State as full, non-football members. The Bulldogs and Shockers have been the two of the best mid-major basketball programs in the last decade-plus. Adding both schools significantly boosts the conference’s NCAA Tournament chances, almost guaranteeing they get at least three teams into the tournament every year.
Gonzaga has flirted with the Mountain West in the past and there were always rumors that they, BYU, and maybe St. Mary’s, would join. But now, with BYU leaving for the Big 12, that eliminates Gonzaga’s biggest competition in the WCC and would bring down the WCC from a competition standpoint. And joining the Mountain West would make perfect sense for Gonzaga to help give them a challenge in conference play.
Wichita State recently moved to the AAC from the Missouri Valley for the sole purpose of helping its basketball team to get a better seed in the NCAA Tournament, and it worked. They are in a tough spot because they moved up a conference and would not want to move back down, but if they worked to get in the Mountain West with Gonzaga, Tulsa, and SMU, then they would be in just as good of a position as when they were in the AAC.
Finally, the Mountain West would need to add one more football-only member. Bringing in SMU and Tulsa puts the conference at 13 football members. Adding Gonzaga and Wichita State would bring the Mountain West to 14 members in all other sports since Hawaii is a football-only member, so they would have to add another football member.
The best available option would be New Mexico State since they are an independent. They don’t have to add another football-only member, but it makes sense to even everything out, and have 14 members in your two biggest sports.
Are there flaws in this plan? Sure, but there are in almost any realignment speculation. But this helps the Mountain West get back on the national scene and much more relevant. Adding Tulsa and SMU as full-time members, and Gonzaga and Wichita State as full-time, non-football members immediately elevate the conference and will make sure they do not get left behind in the current movement in realignment.