February 14, 2012
Expansion Candidates for the new MWC/C-USA
First, I'm assuming that the new conference will contain all existing members of both the Mountain West and Conference USA. Since West Virginia has found a way to make it to the Big 12 for this season (as schedules were released today that included WVU), I will also assume that Boise State will make its way to the Big East for 2012 as well. So current members are:
Hawaii (football only)
With Boise State getting to the Big East in 2012, that makes for a nice, round 16 team conference with 8 schools in each division. However, the official release from yesterday says that the conference is looking at 18-24 teams. Also, what about San Diego State? Do they get to the Big East early too? (And there's another question of will Boise and SDSU owe the MWC any buyout money since it is technically a conference that is planning to no longer exist?)
Whether or not Boise or SDSU get to the Big East in 2012 or 2013 is likely irrelevant (as well as C-USA defectors Houston, SMU, Memphis, and UCF, for that matter), as the new MWCUSA is reportedly on track for the 2013 season anyway.
So, who are the targets to get that group to 18 or maybe even 24?
First, my opinion on what should be the MWCUSA's expansion philosophy: go for quality, not TV markets. There isn't a big-enough splash out there market-wise worth stretching the conference boundaries all over the place in hopes that it will up any TV deal for which you are shooting. (This means I'm not really a fan of Temple.)
I would guess the MWC schools will want to add some hoops strength to offset the loss of SDSU. Of the incoming WAC defectors, Nevada has solid hoops, Fresno does not, and Hawaii is joining as a football-only member. Football is already a little meh in the MWC side, so might as well shoot for strong hoops. Given that ...
Primary Western Targets
New Mexico State
Secondary Western Targets
San Jose State
Adding Utah State and NMSU to the hoops programs of UNLV, New Mexico, and Nevada (along with rising programs at Wyoming and Colorado State) would make the MWC-side of the new conference very strong in basketball. San Jose State is a secondary option if you decide you are going for the gold (24 teams) and just want to fill out the numbers by picking up "markets," because competitively, the Spartans are a mess. Utah State is also making strides to be competitive in football, a trend I expect to continue as long as Gary Andersen remains the coach there.
Some discussion has gone on for quite some time about the possibility of moving UTEP over to the the Mountain West (or to the western division of a new conference). This would move the Miners back into a conference rivalry with New Mexico and be geographically sound. But, depending on what midwestern/eastern teams the conference targets, UTEP might oppose such a move if they want to stay in a division with other Texas schools.
Primary Midwestern/Eastern Targets
Secondary Midwestern/Eastern Targets
In my "Primary" scenarios, UTEP would be moved to the western division, and with the additions of Utah State and New Mexico State would create a 10-team division (with 11 for football because of Hawaii). Additions of Louisiana Tech, who is definitely interested if you can read between the lines, UTSA, and North Texas gets the "eastern" division to 10 teams as well.
I have not made it a secret that I believe UTSA would be a good pickup, especially for football. In the inaugural year of 2011, the Roadrunners outdrew many FBS programs and seem poised for a rise. North Texas would add a school in the Dallas area; the combination of UTSA and UNT gives a Texas recruiting "in" that people seem to feel comes with having teams in Texas. UNT also has a brand-new football stadium, and UTSA plays in the Alamodome.
Louisiana Tech fits well geographically, gives Tulane an in-state rival, and Sonny Dykes is a rising star in the college football coaching ranks.
As for secondary eastern targets--again, for if the MWCUSA decides it wants to go all-out--many have discussed Temple and Florida International. If you wanted to get crazy with that, you probably could. But how about Arkansas State? The up-and-coming football program with Gus Malzahn at the helm actually nestles in quite well geographically.