by Daniel Olsen
With Texas and Oklahoma reportedly looking to leave the Big 12 for the SEC, conference realignment could be happening sooner than expected. It’s time to see how that could affect each of the three in-state schools. Here are some scenarios for USU.
Scenario 1: Stay in Mountain West
This can’t happen long term. The Mountain West conference will continue to add and subtract teams like the WAC and Skyline conferences did in past decades. With the Big 12 and other conferences likely looking to add elite Group of Five teams, it only takes one domino such as Boise State to fall to make chaos happen.
The Aggies don’t want to end up in a Mountain West Lite version of the conference. The New Mexico State Aggies were left out of the WAC as soon as the conference ended football participation. Now, they are a perennial doormat. The Aggies can’t get left behind if the Mountain West crumbles so they have to keep their phone lines open.
Scenario 2: Go Independent
This hasn’t worked in the past so why would it work now? The Aggies went Independent from 1962-1977 and briefly from 2001-2002. They had a few good seasons but were mostly average. They had six losing seasons and did not play in a bowl game at any time during those spans.
Most teams can’t unless they have a huge TV contract and support from a national fan base. Notre Dame has made that work and BYU is starting to figure things out as a local FBS Independent. It helps that they have a large TV contract from ESPN. If it hasn’t worked for the Aggies in the past, then it’s insanity according to Einstein’s theory to try this again.
Scenario 3: Join a P5 Conference
The Aggies should make this move every day and twice on Sunday if the opportunity is presented. Geographically, the conferences that make the most sense are the Big 12 and PAC-12. If the one West Coast conference decides to expand to 14 or more, the PAC-12 should look at adding another team from the Utah market.
While BYU would make the Holy War more meaningful as a conference rivalry, the Cougars seem to be a better fit for the Big 12. The PAC-12 seems to favor research institutions more than religious universities. That doesn’t mean there isn’t a place for out-of-conference games. USC vs Notre Dame and BYU vs Utah are two of the biggest rivalries for the PAC-12 outside of conference play.
In a perfect scenario, BYU would go to whatever is left of the Big 12 and the Aggies would join other Mountain West schools in an expanded Power Five conference on the West Coast. The Utes would likely want to keep both in-state schools out of the PAC-12 to maintain their dominance, but it makes sense for the PAC-12 to add one more team from the Beehive State. With no NFL team, sports fans in Utah eat, sleep and breathe college football. There would be no shortage of fans tuned in if this happened.
Utah State just needs to be dominant for the better part of this decade so they can make an attractive case when the time comes. Logan isn’t a huge town but neither is Pullman, Washington. However, Washington State is still in the PAC-12. If the Aggies win, more fans will come and support the team. If they can built a larger pool of revenue, that could also help their case.
Scenario 4: Create a new conference
If the Aggies don’t get into a Power Five and the Mountain West is disbanding, they should collaborate with other teams that don’t get in to create the next best thing. The Aggies shouldn’t limit themselves either. If it means they have to band with some teams in the South or the Midwest, they can live with the extra travel time.
There will be several floating teams out there when conference realignment happens and not every good team will have a place to call themselves home. The conference should be have at least one current Power Five team, several teams in the Texas market, and other current teams in the Mountain West conference. Washington State could be a team that gets relegated from the PAC-12 if their resume doesn’t improve.
If the SEC super conference idea happens, the Aggies could look to join a true American conference with teams from sea to shining sea. The Group of Five conferences could almost form into some kind of developmental league to prepare players for the P5 money should they decide to make a stop there before the NFL.
Most likely scenario: Chaos
This happens every couple decades and sometimes even more often than that. There will be realignment but how much? Will the Mountain West survive with a watered down version of itself or will it become what the WAC is now? The latter seems more likely and the Aggies need to be prepared for change when the time does come. Look for a new conference out west to be formed in the next decade. A team in this conference might have a chance to win a championship in a 12-team playoff.
Featured image courtesy BYU Photo