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The Realignment Circus Marches On

How does it impact the Mountain West?

NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament- Championship Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

We all have feelings about realignment. Some of us feel like it is destroying college athletics, while others feel like it adds excitement and creates new matchups. With news of Colorado leaving the PAC 12 and returning to their former home of the Big 12, it is clear that the Mountain West will be impacted in some way. How the Mountain West will be impacted remains to be seen. Could it be a good thing? Could it be the beginning of the end for the conference? Let’s look at some of the possible scenarios and try to determine what seems most likely.

Best Scenario For the Mountain West: The PAC 12 Implodes and the Mountain West Expands

To be honest, this probably isn’t very likely, but I do think it is possible. It would probably take Oregon and Washington (maybe Stanford as well) going to the Big 10 and Arizona, Utah, Arizona State going to the Big 12. There are also rumors that Washington and Oregon could be considering a move to the Big 12 if the Big 10 doesn’t work out.

In that scenario, Cal, Stanford, Oregon State, and Washington State would be looking for a new home. It is hard to envision a scenario where Stanford and Cal would be okay with joining the Mountain West. Cal would maybe consider it if Stanford went elsewhere. I think it is more likely that those schools would go independent in football and join the WCC in other sports. Even if the Mountain West could manage to stay intact and add the Beavers and Cougars, that would be a massive win for the conference.

Scenario #2: Only San Diego State Leaves

If there is one thing we have learned the last few weeks, it is that the Aztecs wanted out and were as good as gone (or so we thought). San Diego State will likely be the first domino to fall once the PAC 12 finally issues an invite.

What happens if San Diego State leaves?

The impact on basketball would obviously be huge. The Aztecs are clearly the flagship basketball school and it would be a massive hit in that regard. They are a solid football school, but the quality of football would not take a massive hit if they were to leave. I do think this is the most likely scenario at the moment.

If the Aztecs leave, I think the conference should stand pat at 11 football teams. I know it is an odd number, but there aren’t any additions that would move the needle. Now, if someone like Memphis or UTSA wanted to join, then I would feel differently. But that doesn’t seem realistic.

Scenario #3: The Conference Loses 2-3 Members (Or More)

If the Pac 12 can avoid more departures, they will likely look to add three teams. We know that San Diego State and SMU would likely be included in those three teams. Who the third team would be remains a mystery. Colorado State, UNLV, Boise State, Fresno State, and Air Force have all been mentioned as possible candidates. With rumors circulating that more schools may be departing the PAC 12, it appears that they may need more schools. If the school loses three members, they will have no choice but to expand.

Where would the Mountain West look in this scenario?

UTEP is a name that is often floated, which also opens the door for New Mexico State. I’m not going to lie, that scares me. If UNLV, Colorado State, and San Diego State were to leave, do you think schools like Boise State and Air Force would be okay with that kind of conference? I don’t think so. This also opens the door for the AAC to possibly poach some Mountain West schools. This may force the conference to look at the FCS level and add teams from Montana or the Dakotas. This is the doomsday scenario for the conference.

Scenario #4: The Mountain West Dissolves

At this point, there is less than a one percent chance that this happens. It would take the majority of the conference leaving to the PAC 12 and/or AAC. Even if six teams were to leave, the conference could likely expand into Texas and pull from Conference USA and maybe pull in some FCS heavyweights. While this is possible, I can say with almost absolute certainty that the conference isn’t going anywhere.

Looking down the road, I think the PAC 12 and Mountain West both survive this round of realignment. Both conferences will be much weaker, but they will survive. I think we see a defection or two from the Mountain West to the PAC 12. If the Mountain West stays at ten or above, I don’t think they should expand. However, if the conference goes below ten, this is how things could potentially play out:

  • Shoot for the stars: See if teams from the AAC are interested. From a competitive standpoint, additionslike Memphis, UTSA, and Tulsa would be upgrades in football and create some interesting matchups without getting too crazy from a geography standpoint.
  • The Best in the FCS: North Dakota State, South Dakota State, and the Montana schools all make a lot of sense geographically and have strong athletic departments. I also think the conference could look at some California schools like UC Davis and Sacramento State.
  • Who else is out there? The only realistic candidates at the FBS level are probably UTEP and New Mexico State. Nothing about those schools moves the needle.

How do you see things playing out for the Mountain West? Do you think the conference can pull from the AAC if it needs to? Leave your thoughts in the comments below?