Mountain West Must Look East

Steve Murray
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Wednesday - September 14, 2011
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Gib Arnold and UH hoops could jump to the Mountain West Conference. Justin Mack photo

Idaho Statesman is reporting that Mountain West Conference executives have met to discuss, among other things, conference realignment.

The article, written by Brian Murphy, quotes conference commissioner Craig Thompson saying, “There’s just so much innuendo and rumor and hearsay and you read the ticker on all the sports things about this guy is talking to that guy and this president is talking ... There’s just so much out there. We’re doing our diligence.”

That’s good news for UH.

Not following? Be patient. The only way to ensure the middling Mountain West maintains any level of respectability is to be proactive. To just sit, do nothing and become the WAC would be disastrous.

Until recently, the conference was in a position to press for BCS inclusion. That opportunity passed after Utah left for the Pac12, TCU bolted for the Big East’s BCS slot and easier competition, and BYU went solo in football hoping to become the next Notre Dame it’s not, never will be, and may soon be wooed by whatever remains of the Big XII.

With survival on the agenda, it would make sense for the Mountain West to pick the carcass of the dying Big XII and, as opposition to 19th century call for western expansion, go east, young man.

Oklahoma and Texas are out of the question. They are simply too big and will soon find each other in either the Pac-12 or SEC. Oklahoma State has T. Boone Pickens, which guarantees big market inclusion.

Missouri is on the Big Ten’s short list with its AAU (Association of American Universities) membership and geographic rivals with Nebraska and Iowa.

The SEC could also give Missouri a look.

Baylor and Texas Tech will try to follow Texas wherever it goes, and if the Longhorns make the move west, all will be fine with the soon-to-be Pac16. That pretty much leaves the Mountain West with a shopping list of Iowa State, Kansas, Kansas State, Memphis (from Conference USA), Utah State (from the WAC) and BYU. Yes, keeping the option open for the Cougars’ return makes sense. To quote Bob Sugar, this isn’t show friendship, it’s show business. Conference invites are about cash, not about myths of collegiality.

So how does all this help UH?

The Mountain West cannot market itself as a football conference like the SEC or boast the basketball depth of the Big East. But by adding Kansas, Memphis, Utah State, BYU and, yes, the University of Hawaii, should Gib Arnold deliver on his first-year promise, the conference suddenly becomes a solid two-sport contender. The added benefit for UH bringing in its full complement of athletic programs is that it would no longer have to give lip service to the ridiculous notion that the current dual-conference alignment was anything more than a stop gap measure to save the program from the WAC death spiral.

In 2012, the Mountain West will have 10 football teams and nine basketball squads. Adding the aforementioned teams would leave the conference with 14 teams in both football and basketball allowing for two divisions and conference tournaments.

Expansion is the only way to save the conference, but selling the notion to teams with bigger market dreams is going to be tough.

But if the Big 12 fails and how can it not with its finances split so unfairly to one team, the Mountain West has to be proactive and not reactive.

The future of UH athletics could depend on it.

Don’t be naive. The top division is going to split and those caught below the demarcation line will suddenly find themselves struggling for relevance and the financial ability to simply field teams.

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