While we may not be seeing any seismic shifts on the conference realignment landscape any time soon now that the Big 12 learned it can get a team in the College Football Playoff with just 10 members, the Mountain West Conference is a bit of a different story. After commissioner Craig Thompson addressed the idea of leaving a light on for BYU, the question has shifted to who would join BYU to keep balance in the conference. Whether or not BYU is part of the equation, two schools worth keeping an eye on are Rice and UTEP.
A report published by Dennis Dodd of CBSSports.com added a spark to the conversation surrounding Rice and UTEP with the Mountain West Conference scheduled for some meetings this weekend between athletic directors and other leaders. Per Dodd, there is a thought Rice would be the more desirable option base don Rice’s academic standing, but UTEP has been touching base with the MWC for a few years now as they sit isolated from the majority of Conference USA’s membership. UTEP also has some history with a majority of the members of the MWC dating back to the old WAC line-up.
The MWC currently has 12 football members, and Conference USA has 13, including Rice and UTEP. If the Mountain West were to add BYU, plucking either Rice or UTEP from Conference USA would keep some form of balance and perhaps keep Conference USA from feeling an urge to take on another member. Conference USA has already managed to keep things rolling by adding some programs with more of a long-term plan for growth. Losing Rice or UTEP would likely result in Conference USA sliding one member from the East Division into thew West Division to balance out the division line-up, perhaps Middle Tennessee or Western Kentucky (or go the Big 12 route and slide Marshall into the Texas-heavy West Division). Keep in mind, Conference USA is slated to welcome back UAB starting in 2017.
Adding Rice or UTEP would help get the MWC into the state of Texas, which is a state ripe of high school football talent. The conference lost its presence in the state when TCU left for the
Big East Big 12. From a marketing perspective, if the Mountain West Conference could lure Rice to the conference, it would help gain some viewership in the Houston TV market. Competing head-to-head with the Big 12 and SEC in Houston may still be a mighty uphill challenge, but in a world where Rutgers was a top target for the Big Ten, the MWC taking aim on Rice makes plenty of sense. Either way, just setting foot in Texas is something the MWC should find appealing.
There is no timeline for any possible expansion at this time though. There may not even be any movement on the push to expand this weekend, but it should be expected to be a discussion topic that leads to further evaluation of the landscape for the conference and beyond as it prepares for every possible scenario involving BYU or not. Expansion for the sake of expansion is not a wise move.