After the rumors were swirling around on Monday that the Mountain West would add Utah State and San Jose State in 2012 a lot of fans got upset about those possible additions. It was not because of the locations of these schools but their lack of winning on the football field. If these two schools were added it would destroy any chance the Mountain West had of gaining AQ status.
Utah State is third fiddle in the Utah behind the University of Utah and BYU and has had little success on the football field this decade. Salt Lake City is currently the 35th largest media market and fits solidly in the MWC footprint. The Aggies only have 14 wins in football over the past six years. Their basketball team has had plenty of success and gets great crowds but football is really driving the bus on expansion.
San Jose State resides in the Bay Area which is the sixth largest media market in the nation. That is a ton of eyeballs to add for media exposure but the problem is that the Spartans get little attention in that market considering college fans instead watch Stanford and Cal and there are plenty of pro teams: 49ers, Giants, A's, Sharks and Warriors. San Jose did go 9-4 in 2006 and win the New Mexico Bowl but since then their record has been a combined 14-35.
TCU is a small private school that is stuck behind all the Big XII schools and really doesn't receive that much attention in the Dallas-Fort Worth media. The Horned Frogs have had plenty of success on the field under coach Gary Patterson including two straight perfect regular seasons and BCS bowl appearances. The Big East still decided to add TCU in 2012 despite the geographical distance between all their schools and being a small school. Would the Big East even have considered TCU if their record had been 7-5 or worse the last few years? I highly doubt it.
The PAC 12 added Utah who has been to two BCS games but also Colorado who has struggled under former Coach Dan Hawkins. Over the past five year the Buffs compiled a 21-40 record with one bowl appearance. Utah was added because of their success on the field while Colorado brought a larger TV market.
Here are the teams the Mountain West will add in 2011/12 and their media market ranking: Boise State (Boise, ID 113th), Fresno State (Fresno/Visalia,CA 55th), Nevada (Reno/Sparks, NV 106th) and Hawai'i (Honolulu, HI 73rd).
So this begs the question: Do conferences expand mainly because of media markets or winning teams? Is there ever a scenario where a AQ conference would be interested in Wyoming?
Wyoming is a tough situation since it is the least populous state in the nation and hasn't had a ton of winning programs recently. The football team has had two 7-6 seasons in the past decade and the basketball team has steadily lost traction. Women's basketball and wrestling have done well but aren't going to open any eyes of larger conferences.
Wyoming's best fit in a AQ conference would the Big XII which is now down to 10 members after the departures of Nebraska and Colorado. It could fit in well geographically in a new Big 12 North with Iowa State, Kansas and Kansas State for starters. With rumblings of Texas A&M eying the SEC this could create another domino effect in conference expansion like we saw this past summer.
NOTE: The point of this article is not to say that Wyoming should/would be a target for an AQ conference. Just playing devils advocate here and seeing if it could be a possibility in the future.
Most of Wyoming's recruits come from East of the Rockies:Colorado and Texas. While Wyoming does have the smallest population of any state though it is generally included in the Denver Media market which is the 18th largest. Other schools wouldn't want to add Wyoming because of their recruiting grounds like a Texas or California school. The largest markets actually in Wyoming are Cheyenne (196) and Casper (198). Wyoming can't control the it's population or location but there is one factor that it can change: victories.
So here is the scenario I pose to you: If Coach Christensen continued to build the program and the Pokes started having some success like he did with Missouri would AQ conferences take a look at Wyoming?
Here is a hypothetical regular season record for the next four years:
- 2011: 7-5
- 2012: 8-4
- 2013: 10-2
- 2014: 11-1
This is based on a regular twelve game schedule and I'm not counting in the additional game against Hawaii that Wyoming will have at least once during this period for traveling to the islands.
If Wyoming puts together four winning years in a row and shows that they are making steady progress with two double digit winning seasons; would that be enough? Is that record worthy to convince a bigger conference to take a look? If 35 wins in four years wasn't enough then what would be? 38? 40? 48?.
Is the small town image of Wyoming too much to overcome or does winning change everything? I'm very happy with Wyoming as a member of the Mountain West Conference but in this crazy changing landscape of college football you never know what can happen. If Wyoming developed a competitive football team would the the BIG XII to take a serious look?
If San Jose State and Utah State both had winning programs would we be looking at a 12 team Mountain West? I would say "Yes"! I think that is why it was smart for the Mountain West to stay put at 10 football members for the time being. Those two schools aren't going anywhere and if they turn things around then they could be added a later date.
Would love to get your thoughts on expansion and why you think it mainly occurs. What is the most important factor and does it trump all others?