Mountain West still longs to be a player in the BCS
By Ed Graney
Special to ESPN.com
Say this for those proactive folks from the Mountain West Conference: Indecisive is not part of the league's preferred vocabulary.
It was a few days before the conference held its annual Board of Directors meeting earlier this month, a few days before the eight-team league officially announced it was open to charting a new course of direction, when commissioner Craig Thompson listed the agenda's most significant points:
Said Thompson: "The big issue is No. 1, BCS status; No. 2, BCS status; and No. 3, BCS status."
Out where the real money is, where the boys from the ACC might soon steal from their cartel brethren in the Big East, the Mountain West remains more an afterthought to some than yesterday's breakfast. That might change now.
The Mountain West would love to see one of its own -- like Colorado State QB Bradlee Van Pelt -- in a BCS game.
What was once never a possibility -- guaranteed Bowl Championship Series inclusion for the Mountain West -- is at least now, well, an adequate longshot.
"We have to be far more aggressive to the pursuit of changes in postseason football," said Nevada-Las Vegas President Carol Harter. "All the presidents have agreed to that."
And so, they look to expand.
The moratorium against adding new members has been lifted in the 4-year-old Mountain West, its members convinced the face of college athletics is about to endure a transformation that will reverberate from one coast to the other. If the ACC does indeed add schools and essentially make the Big East a football equivalent of your favorite tech stock, the Mountain West feels it can present the most competitive argument for a sixth guaranteed BCS berth.
To do so, it seems eight teams must grow to 12, allowing for a football championship game between the winners of two six-team divisions.
To do so, it seems the league must assume a college landscape will one day soon be defined by eight or nine superconferences.
To do so, it seems the Mountain West must take from which it came.
"I have said repeatedly that if we ever expand, teams would likely come from the WAC," said Thompson. "Let's be real. No teams from the Pac-10 or Big Ten would come. It would have to be WAC people.
"There are a lot of ways you can look at this. If you are tracking all of it, you might presume an eight-team conference might not be big enough anymore. It's a valid presumption ... I guarantee you this: If the BCS told us we needed 12 members to gain that sixth automatic spot, we'd have 12 members tomorrow."
It's hardly that simple. Four WAC teams -- Boise State, Fresno State, Hawaii and Nevada -- have been mentioned most as those the Mountain West will target, but none are powerful enough to produce a revenue boost from the league's ESPN television contract. At first, expansion in the Mountain West will be more about enhancing prestige nationally than benefiting financially.
Said New Mexico athletic director Rudy Davalos: "We would basically be expanding with what we already have. We're not adding a whole lot of quality."
Timing is, of course, paramount. The Mountain West schools broke from the WAC in 1998 because the divisional makeup of a 16-team conference threatened to destroy long-standing rivalries, because all of a sudden it wasn't certain that Colorado State would play Wyoming in football every year and Utah would meet New Mexico in basketball annually.
Feeling now is, the Mountain West wants to position itself in the most attractive light before the 2005-06 season, after which the current BCS television contract ends. Some say the Mountain West might add just one school, finally offering a balanced conference football schedule; others are certain four programs will eventually leap aboard. Either way, any incoming school must give its conference a year's notice.
The funny part in all this: At the conclusion of their meetings in a seaside town 40 minutes north of San Diego, Mountain West presidents swore any expansion plans were "independent" of attempting to join the BCS.
(Insert raised eyebrows and smirks here).
"If we are going to (expand) to strengthen our league, to enhance our bargaining power, we ought to do it before that (BCS) contract expires," admitted Utah President Bernard Machen, who also mentioned possible legal action if non-BCS schools can't elicit change in how revenues are distributed nationally.
And still, history -- not to mention that BCS fat cats hoard millions like J.Lo does a spotlight -- suggests any change in the existing format likely would feature five automatics and three at-large berths over six guaranteed spots.
Fact: Numerous dominoes must crash to the collegiate floor before any of this reaches the Mountain West's doorstep.
If it ever does.
"The Mountain West isn't going to get an automatic BCS berth unless they add UCLA and USC," said WAC Commissioner Karl Benson, whose league has also decided to explore expansion from its current 10 teams. "I just don't think us or another conference going to 12 teams will necessarily enhance anyone's chances at a guaranteed spot."
There are those in the Mountain West who disagree.
After all, theirs is suddenly an adequate longshot.
Ed Graney covers college football for the San Diego Union-Tribune.
The Bear may be dead but he still hates Tennessee. Roll Damn Tide