Yes we have some realignment news…wait, don’t run away! Yes realignment was done to death a few years back and especially with the Big XII Deal Or No Deal type expansion process. I get it. However, it’s the reality of college sports, especially at the football level. But this time around it is more geared towards the basketball end of things. In the end though, it will effect football (potentially) in a myriad of ways. So let’s begin.
The Mountain West wants Gonzaga. There, I said it. Gonzaga has dominated the West Coast Conference better than any team has dominated their conference in college basketball ever. Period. They are the West Coast Conference basically. So let’s be honest: the Zags are leaving the WCC for the MWC. Whether that happens for the next season I don’t know but they have three months to decide (and will probably want to do it before then). The Mountain West is also talking to some other schools to see if they should expand further. One school that may or may not be in this mix (depending on what you read) is BYU. Ah, the Cougars. Independence looked great for them. They were a solid #2 behind Notre Dame in college football’s Independent ranks up until recently. Now, Army may have reached their level (debatable) or BYU has dropped below them (also debatable). Either way you slice it, BYU’s football has taken a downward trend recently. But the rest of their sports are in the WCC. This is where this all really comes into play. BYU might not want to be stuck in the WCC without Gonzaga (and potentially Saint Mary’s who may also be getting a look). The WCC without Gonzaga is not a good conference. At least now. It may be a decade from now but not now. So would BYU want to go back to the Mountain West? Here seems to be the options for BYU:
- Stay as a college football independent and in the WCC for basketball (and all other sports). Being an independent is hard these days, especially with the New Year’s Six not giving them access to the G5 spot (which sounds like mid-major porn). They would be a big fish in a much smaller WCC pond but could continue to struggle with football.
- Go back to the MWC in football only and keep all other sports in the WCC. They might prefer this option but will the Mountain West accept that or force BYU’s hand. All or nothing?
- All. Everything back to the Mountain West.
In my opinion, I believe BYU has to swallow its pride and at least discuss a return to the Mountain West, even if it’s just for football. Otherwise they will be stuck out in no-man’s-land so to speak with no bowl tie-ins and no NY6 possibilities. The other issues that come up with this are the potential for UTEP and New Mexico State to also join the MWC. If that’s the case, they would have their 14 football schools and wouldn’t need BYU. At that point, BYU would have to be paired with yet another football school for it to make sense for the Mountain West. Somewhat confusing but hopefully soon enough (maybe as early as the Final Four) we will get more news on this…at least it pertains to Gonzaga. Then the dominoes can fall in some way after that.
Now this whole realignment talk makes me look back at a subject I have wanted to tackle for a while and never did until now because it’s a lengthy one. Yep, it’s another What-if Post! This time: What if the Southwest Conference never disbanded? Oof. Alright then.
The math here is basically 2+2=5 but no matter. The Big 8 invited four members of the old SWC to form the Big XII. That’s what we know. But the entire demise started way before that. Really it begins in the 80s and peaks with the death penalty given to SMU.
That penalty (which, let’s be honest, should have either not been given as harshly or been given to a few other programs in recent memory) essentially killed the Southwest Conference. It just took another decade to finally bury the corpse. So let’s say SMU doesn’t get the death penalty but a fairly harsh one. Enough that it makes for a difficult 1987 and puts the other conference teams on notice. What this wouldn’t have done is keep Arkansas. The SEC wanted to expand as soon as the Big Ten was making a play for Penn State. And Arkansas was one of the six options for SEC expansion and pretty much at the top of the list. So Arkansas is gone and the SWC is down to 8 teams. Making the conference stronger, however, could have done one of two things:
- Kept these eight together for a long time with perhaps an expansion or two in the decade or two following, or
- Had the best from the SWC merge with the best of the Big 8 to create a conference but probably not with 12 teams or not in the way they ended up merging in the first place.
So let’s be perfectly honest here: there is no way they keep the eight they had unless they expand heavily since Rice was never going to be able to compete (and never really did being the Vanderbilt of the group and that is even stretching it). SMU is another story. Since they are in the Metroplex, I think the lack of death penalty would have at least kept them competitive for bowl games for a while. And remember: at various times, Baylor and Houston were Top 25 teams in the decade after the death penalty occurred. So let’s say they expand. The question is when and where. This is when it becomes super complicated.
So probably through 1996, everything happens the way it would have. The big realignment of 1997 would not have happened…at least at this point; however, it would have been a matter of time before the SWC did something since they knew with the way TV contracts were going, having such a small conference footprint would have been the death of the conference eventually. What they would have done is two-fold. First, get rid of the dead-weight schools. Rice would have been a goner. No way they can continue to compete. Plus with Houston already in the conference, they have that area covered. One of TCU or SMU is probably also gone. You can make a case for either one to stay but both couldn’t stay because really the Metroplex barely needed one major conference team so two would have been out of the question. So let’s drop SMU for this exercise. That leaves this:
- Texas A&M
- Texas Tech
Honestly…not bad. In the late 90s would have been the time to be aggressive before some former WAC-offs decided to meet in a (probably) sleazy Motel 6 and start a new conference. So the choices to join the new “super-sized” Southwest Conference would have been:
- BYU. Yes it’s not southwest in any sense but BYU at the time was still a hot ticket for football.
- Tulane. To keep that (somewhat) southwest feel by including a state that is beside Texas.
- New Mexico and UTEP. I think these two would have been kind of joined at the hip at this point.
- Wyoming and Colorado State. This is more of the bridge (of sorts) from Texas to BYU through these two schools.
A fairly decent conference that probably would have seen at least two of these teams (BYU and one other) become fairly prominent Power Five-like football teams. It also keeps the Big Eight from doing anything and pushes the WAC and Big West, possibly, into some sort of unholy alliance. I also believe this would have kept some conferences’ footprints (I am looking straight at you WAC) from getting totally out of hand…at least until ESPN came along and threw a bunch of money at someone and we then have San Diego State to the Big East or something else as foolish. Otherwise, this probably turns out better for many schools involved. So this is what it would look like as of the start of the new millennium for the effected conferences (I excluded the ACC, Big East, Big Ten, MAC, Pac-10 and SEC since they would not have changed from what they were before the 2000 season):
|SWC||WAC||Conference USA||Big West||Big 8|
|Texas||Air Force||Louisville||Boise State||Kansas State|
|Texas A&M||UNLV||East Carolina||Utah State||Nebraska|
|Texas Tech||Utah||Cincinnati||Idaho||Iowa State|
|Houston||San Diego State||Southern Miss||New Mexico State||Colorado|
|Baylor||Fresno State||UAB||North Texas||Kansas|
|TCU||San Jose State||Memphis||Arkansas State||Missouri|
That’s…that’s quite a bit different than what actually happened. I honestly wouldn’t know what to do with the WAC and Big West at this point. My guess is, potentially a few years later, the Big 8 or SWC would pick up two members and force these conferences to merge. Also remember that the Sun Belt was on the brink of sponsoring football at the Division 1-A level in a couple of years which would provide a whole other wrinkle. In the end, the ACC, Big Ten, Pac-10 and SEC would look at this and stay as far away as possible (for the time being). OK so maybe realignment isn’t so bad…sometimes. I’m lying…it almost always sucks these days.
Alright we are done with that. That post was kind of long and meandered a bit. In the end I think I determined the Southwest Conference deserved to die. Don’t know why though. All I know is it may have caused less problems by dissolving. Next up will be my final mock draft sometime in April. Then it’s the actual draft and I can start posting semi-regularly again. Ugh I hate this time of year. Enjoy your short work week everyone!