The month of January will certainly be a very busy for Mountain West Commissioner Craig Thompson. I really hope he has an unlimited talk plan.
With Boise State staying put the Mountain West is set for at least 11 schools for 2012. The next domino to fall in the process is going to be San Diego State. The Aztecs are going to be deciding to either stay in the Mountain West or continue their move to the Big East despite not having any western travel partner. Boise State wanted to make sure that San Diego State wasn't left out and negotiated a deal where the Mountain West can't invite any others schools before SDSU. That exclusive window ends on January 31st.
San Diego State AD Jim Sterk was very outspoken about not coming back to the Mountain West in the fall. That position seems to have softened with the latest developments. It looks like Sterk will need to swallow his pride a bit here and help negotiate a deal where the Aztecs can remain in the Mountain West. Without Boise State the Big East TV deal is going to take a big hit and the the next closest Big East school would be SMU that is over 1,300 miles away. By staying in the Mountain West the Aztecs can also ensure that their highly ranked basketball team would stay in the preeminent hoops conference in the west, a much better option than the bus league Big West.
There are plenty of talks happening between Craig Thompson and San Diego State. I would expect a decision to be quickly and for the Aztecs to remain in the Mountain West. That would give the league twelve teams for 2013 and also allow it to have a conference championship game. The game would be played at the home stadium of the team with the highest BCS ranking. That is the fairest system since it ensures a large crowd for the game and rewards the highest ranked team.
I expect that the Mountain West will stick at 12 teams for 2013 but will have additional teams in 2014. Talks between BYU and the Mountain West have been confirmed. The Cougars were a founding member of the Mountain West but went independent and signed a TV deal with ESPN. One of the big reasons they left was due to issues with the Mountain West TV agreement that was very inflexible. With the recent renegotiated contract with CBS and the outside the box thinking of the Boise State agreement it could provide a way for BYU keep their ESPN exposure, utilize the BYU TV network and give the Cougars a better seating in the new playoff system that starts in 2014. Currently BYU, Army and Navy would only receive a $100,000 cut from the new playoff system and they would have to finish in the top four to earn a spot in one of the access bowl games that provides a huge payday. Meanwhile the top team from the "group of five" conferences is automatically set play in one of those bowls. The Mountain West is positioning itself to be the top conference ahead of the Big East, MAC, CUSA and Sun Belt.
The new playoff system doesn't start till 2014 and so there isn't any incentive for BYU to make a move earlier. They also have eleven games scheduled already for 2013. It would be very expensive and difficult to cancel some of those games to accommodate a conference schedule.
In 2014 things would be much easier for BYU to transition back to a conference schedule.
Here are the future schedules for BYU from 2014 and 2015:
- 2014 - @ Texas, Virginia, Houston, Utah State, Hawaii, @ Boise State, @ Middle Tennessee, Southern Miss, UNLV.
- 2015 - @ Nebraska, Boise State, @ Michigan, Utah State, @ Southern Miss, Cincinnati, @ Hawaii, @ UNLV
In 2014 and 2015 BYU is set to play four Mountain West schools already. If the Mountain West were to add Houston in 2014 along with BYU then that would perfectly give BYU four non conference games in each of those years and not require any game buyouts.
Houston has been rumored to be a target of the Mountain West and they can certainly the future of the Big East dwindling. The Cougars would get the Mountain West a presence in Texas again. For 2014 I look for both Cougars to come on board. There are a number of other schools could be added but I don't see the Mountain West rushing to 16 teams.