Questions for new MWC and C-USA league

February, 15, 2012
02/15/12
9:55
AM ET
The Mountain West and Conference USA had to do something to survive, but the conference conglomerate that was formed is still ripe with unanswered questions.

"Our basketball will remain very strong," said Colorado State coach Tim Miles. "The MWC and C-USA couldn't stand still any longer."

The potential exists for a conference with multiple bids to the NCAA tournament.

Of course, that's the first question that doesn't have an exact answer yet when posed to the NCAA on Tuesday. Does the C-USA/MWC league retain an automatic berth? Commissioners Craig Thompson, a former NCAA tournament selection committee chair, and Britton Banowsky are seasoned NCAA committee members at various levels. They had to know this answer before making such a bold move. But the NCAA didn't have a set answer on the topic Tuesday.

[+] Enlarge
Alford
Ron Chenoy/US PresswireNew Mexico coach Steve Alford's concerns about the MWC/C-USA league are shared by many.

The only natural rivalry that is now rekindled with the move is the return of New Mexico and UTEP to the same conference. These are two long-time old WAC partners that played countless quality games for decades.

Other than that, the similarities between the two leagues is minimal at best. "I'm not sure yet about how this will work," said New Mexico coach Steve Alford. "We had to do something with us losing so many teams. But I really haven't seen how the league schedule will be done or where the tournament will be. There are still a lot of questions."

Tulsa coach Doug Wojcik said it best when he added that there is stability in the move but the travel was worse than the current situation.

The apparent goal of this conference is to have two essential regional conferences with one umbrella title league and a playoff to determine a champion.

The 2013 membership isn't expected to stay as is since there is hope of expanding.

As it stands now, the 16 teams in football would be: 1. Fresno State; 2. Nevada; 3. UNLV; 4. New Mexico; 5. Hawaii; 6. Air Force; 7. Colorado State; 8. Wyoming; 9. Tulsa; 10. UAB; 11. Rice; 12. Southern Miss; 13. Marshall; 14. East Carolina; 15. Tulane; 16. UTEP.

Hawaii will join the Big West in 2012-13 in all other sports, leaving the league with 15 basketball-playing schools in the fall of 2013.

One complaint already levied Tuesday by one school was that there are only two members in the Eastern time zone: Marshall and East Carolina.

The news release from C-USA and the MWC discussed raising the membership to 18 to 24 schools. And already programs are jockeying for position to join this league.

There are a number of options, none of which may move the meter in ratings or command a higher dollar fee in television rights. But there is potential to improve the basketball power rating if this occurs.

According to multiple sources, the candidates include Charlotte (A-10), which is about to start playing football; Florida International (Sun Belt); North Texas (Sun Belt); UT-San Antonio (WAC); Louisiana Tech (WAC); Middle Tennessee State (Sun Belt); Western Kentucky (Sun Belt), if the Hilltoppers want to bump up the football program; Old Dominion (CAA), if the Monarchs bump up football as well; and UMass and Temple (both would be coming from MAC in football, A-10 in other sports).

The West doesn't need to be shored up, but there are obvious candidates -- New Mexico State, Utah State and San Jose State are all possibilities -- if this league wanted to raid the WAC.

There are plenty of rich basketball-playing schools this group could pluck to add to the competitive nature of the league. Temple is atop the list, and if the Big East doesn't grab the Owls, they are ready to be taken (if they deem this a better fit than their current state).

Of course, if these raids happen, it would potentially weaken other solid basketball leagues like the A-10 and to some extent the Sun Belt and possibly CAA.

But Alford's concerns are shared by many. The MWC has done a tremendous job of creating a high-level conference with limited numbers. The rivalries among San Diego State, UNLV and New Mexico -- and previously with BYU and Utah before the departures of those two schools -- were some of the best in the Pacific and Mountain time zones. The MWC had captured the vacuum in the West amid the Pac-12's demise. The WCC has had its moments at the top of its league, but it didn't have the depth the MWC had recently.

The MWC's dominance has been fractured with the departures of BYU (to the WCC in all sports but football, in which the Cougars are now an independent), once-proud Utah and the pending exit of the Aztecs from the conference in 2013.

Had Memphis stayed in C-USA instead of bolting for the Big East, this league would have had a bookend of elite programs in UNLV and Memphis -- two of the powers from outside the "power six" leagues in the past 20 years. Instead, UNLV will have to carry a heavy burden as the flagship of this merger.

The onus will be on New Mexico, UTEP, UAB, Southern Miss, Tulsa, Marshall and any newcomer to continue to raise their game and be top 30-40 programs on a consistent basis. Short of that, and this league won't have the necessary relevance to command the media rights dollars and/or the multiple bids that are necessary for the survival of a mega-conference.

Andy Katz | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com

SPONSORED HEADLINES

Comments

You must be signed in to post a comment

Already have an account?