There has been plenty of commentary on the merger between the Mountain West and Conference USA that will take place in either 2012 or 2013. Plenty of it has been negative but the move actually makes a lot of sense right now. I'll tackle some of the common complaints about this merger and what makes it such a smart move for both conferences.
NO BCS AQ BID INVOLVED
Gaining AQ status has been the goal for the Mountain West ever since the BCS formed. Even after this evaluation cycle the Mountain West would still have to apply for waiver to be granted to AQ status. Even if Boise State and Air Force stay in the Mountain West the league would have been denied AQ status.
I do not believe the Mountain West was going to get a BCS AQ position if we stayed status quo. And we had some pretty bright people looking into that. It would have had to go to a waiver process and we were not going to get the votes. So it looked very, very unlikely. From all sources that we could gather, we were not going to get a BCS AQ, short of a dramatic miracle. So does it help us? It surely doesn’t hurt us, because we weren’t going to get one anyway.
So the Mountain West isn't losing out by doing the merger here and the BCS wouldn't automatically grant this merger an automatic berth right when it was announced. It has be approved by the NCAA before the BCS could even evaluate the alliance. They would still need to meet with the BCS after the evaluation period and try and work things out for the alliance to earn a BCS bid. And who knows if the BCS will be even be in existence in a couple years. The current BCS contract runs till 2014 and and a new system may replace it. The larger conferences may try and break away from the NCAA and form their own system. A conference that contains over one sixth of the entire FBS has a better chance of being added then just a 10 team league.
NO NEW TV DEAL
Both conferences will use their existing television deals under this partnership. Conference USA just signed a new TV deal thru 2016 and the Mountain West deal runs till 2015. This merger is for football only which is why it would be hard to renegotiate both tv deals. There still will be new income for divisions with the championship game that will be played. That could bring upwards of $5M for the broadcast rights. The Mountain West was projected to earn $5M if they formed a twelve team league and hosted a championship game. Even when divided by 22 that amount per schools is fairly small but why so no to additional revenue.
There is also talk of a tiered playoff format before the championship game happening down the road. Those extra games could also bring in additional revenue. What a novel idea, playoffs make money. In a few years when the current deals are complete there certainly could be a larger TV deal negotiated. With many large tv markets involved and five time zones it creates the potential for a better broadcast package to be signed in the future.
IT IS JUST TOO BIG
With currently 22 members this certainly brings back some memories of the big WAC 16 experiment that went bad. How this is just for football and will be much easier to manage. Also with the changing landscape of college football it provides for more stability the league. Both conferences are on the verge of losing some members here. If the Mountain West lost Air Force and Boise State there is no way the conference would be able to maintain their current TV deal. It would also make it more likely that the remaining schools would look elsewhere for conference membership.
Conference USA is also in danger of losing up to three schools: UCF, Houston and SMU. However geographically they are situated better for adding new members. They can look at poaching members of Sun Belt, MAC or some of the Texas based WAC schools. The Mountain West really can just look at raiding the WAC like it has done before for new schools.
With this alliance in place it will be easier to keep schools together and also attract new members as well if new schools leave. Based of where the membership lies schools can be adjusted between divisions to make things easier for travel. UTEP could end up with the western schools, Temple could be added to the east division if they don't end up in the Big East. Both divisions are also free to add basketball only members to help increase their NCAA tournament credits by gaining more bids.
Obviously there are still plenty of things to be worked with this venture and it will take some time to everything drawn out. First off is to see how many teams actually end up in the conference. It may start in 2012 but I would bet that 2013 is more realistic. This alliance certainly seems to work better for Air Force and will help them likely stay in the Mountain West. It will likely be as a football only member as the Falcons have a tough time competing in the Mountain West for Olympic sports. Boise may still be drawn simply because of the AQ bid but I think they should stay in the Mountain West and strive for a Big 12 invite down the road. Joining a disgruntled league that is on the opposite side of the country with a $10M exit fee seems like a recipe for disaster.
For Wyoming this venture certainly creates stability by ensuring the Mountain West stays intact. The Cowboys don't have much leverage to negotiate a move to a BCS conference based on the small population of the state and lack of championship caliber teams. A healthy Mountain West is good for Wyoming athletics and that goes for most of the members of the conference.