If BYU was trying to win a game of chicken with the Mountain West Conference, they may have lost. On the day that word spread about the possibility of BYU packing their bags and leaving the Mountain West Conference they helped to start in pursuit of becoming a football independent and re-aligning with the WAC in all other sports, the Mountain West Conference called the Cougars’ bluff.
On Wednesday night the Mountain West Conference officially announced they invited Fresno State and Nevada to join the conference, and each replied with an affirmative response in separate press conferences. “Fresno State is honored to accept the invitation to join the Mountain West Conference,” said Fresno State President John Welty. “We look forward to competition against some universities we have not faced previously and to renewing rivalries with San Diego State, Colorado State and several other schools that we enjoyed previously.”
“We have had a great experience in the WAC. We have appreciated the strong competition and the wonderful colleagues,” said Nevada President Milt Glick. “The offer to join the Mountain West Conference is an opportunity we cannot turn down. The Mountain West is a strong conference and this will enhance our natural rivalry with UNLV and continue our rivalry with Boise State. We believe joining this conference is in the best, long-term interests of our fans and program, and also view this invitation as acknowledgement of our work to build a strong, competitive program.”
Fresno State has reportedly paid the $5 million buy-out to leave the WAC. This deal was agreed to by WAC members a week ago in the event a school wanted to leave the league. Boise State has already paid their buy-out to the league, and Fresno State’s Welty confirmed that his school paid the buy-out as well. The Reno Gazette-Journal reports that Nevada has yet to sign the buy-out deal.
“The addition of Fresno State and Nevada further enhances the Mountain West Conference,” said Commissioner Craig Thompson. “Our Board of Directors has continued to be diligent and aggressive in executing our strategy for positioning the MWC in the national landscape. We are excited to welcome these two institutions into the Mountain West. Both fit geographically and create new Conference rivalries.”
With the Mountain West Conference luring away two more programs from the WAC (Boise State is already set to switch conferences in 2011), the conference looks to field ten teams in conference play after losing Utah to the Pac-10. If BYU is determined to pursue football independence based on the strength of their own television network, then the Mountain West will field nine teams as it stands now. The WAC currently looks to have a six-team conference put together (Hawaii, Idaho, Louisiana Tech, New Mexico State, San Jose State and Utah State), which will make it tough to maintain stability as a conference with such a wide spread in terms of geography.
For the Mountain West this is a victory against the threat of losing BYU for more than one reason. It gives the conference a pair of programs that have established a winning track record, even if Fresno State and Nevada lack the draw that TCU or Boise State currently has. The addition of Nevada gives the Mountain West a natural rivalry between Nevada and in-state rival UNLV, who is already a Mountain West member. Adding Fresno State also gives the Mountain West another program in California (San Diego State). With many talented high school football players in California, this should open up some more recruiting roads to California.
If BYU decides to opt out of the Mountain West, with no exit fee penalty, then the conference will still be able to put forth a quality product, but this move may force BYU to reconsider their stance as the WAC looks less attractive as a destination for their other sports programs than it did on Tuesday. The question now becomes what will happen next?
I’ll put myself in the shoes of the Mountain West …
Imagine being the only conference in the southwest, largely considered to be “Big 12 Country,” holding a conference championship game. If BYU stays in the conference then the possibility of a conference championship game is not that far off. They are currently two teams away form the NCAA minimum membership to hold a conference title game, and Houston would look like a great fit for the Mountain West. Would Houston be interested? In terms of geography it would make more sense for the Cougars to align themselves in a conference with TCU instead of East Carolina. Add in the fact that the Mountain West is far closer to receiving a BCS bid than Conference USA is and it would seem to be a no-brainer if Houston were to be invited.
So who else should be on the short list? Why not stick in Texas and take a chance by adding SMU. The Mustangs have slowly been in recovery mode from the death penalty in the 1980s and appear to be heading in the right direction. Houston, SMU and TCU all in the same conference? How fun would that be?
Where does the WAC go?
Tough to say at this point, but things look very dim for the former super-conference. The WAC is now scheduled to lose their top three programs in 2011 with the loss of the only school to reach the BCS (Boise State did it twice) and two of the more traditional winning programs in the league. Stuck with Hawaii and the hefty cost of traveling to and from for games will make it difficult for the WAC to attract prospective members. The WAC spans from Hawaii to Louisiana among six teams after the departure of the three new Mountain West members.
BYU has yet to make an official announcement about their plans although they are rumored to be making an announcement sometime on Thursday. All eyes are on you, BYU.