Following up on the conference re-alignment mess, the next major move in the entire puzzle will most likely be coming from the Big West Conference. As it stands right now, by 2013 the Big West will have 10 teams: Cal Poly, CS-Fullerton, CS-Northridge, Long Beach State, UC-Davis, UC-Irvine, UC-Santa Barbara, and UC-Riverside are the eight current members that will be remaining. Pacific is leaving for the West Coast Conference. However, the league will be adding San Diego State and Hawai’i, a pair of marquee chips. San Diego State will be placing its football team in the Big East while Hawai’i’s football team is off to the Mountain West.
So how does the next major move belong to the Big West? As it stands right now, most of the members of the conference are happy with their new ten team alignment. The issue is Boise State. When Boise State agreed to go to the Big East in football they originally also reached out to the Big West (along with San Diego State). The Big West passed, citing the extra travel costs in adding trips to Idaho for all of its members in all sports, especially with having already agreed to the Hawai’i travel expense. Boise then appeared ready to return to the WAC for all non-football sports.
The Mountain West made the next major move, by expanding to ten football members/nine non-football members (remember Hawai’i is football only) by adding Utah State and San Jose State. This move left the WAC with only two football teams (New Mexico State and Idaho) and three schools that competed in all but football come 2013 (Denver, Seattle and Boise State). While there has been some talk of the WAC trying to stay alive as a non-football conference, they are still two members shy of the seven necessary to qualify for an automatic bid (and noone much better that Utah Valley and Cal State-Bakersfield available to fill those spots).
The quite likely death of the WAC has left Boise State scrambling again to find a place for its non-football sports. As it turns out, they have two options. The first is to try once again to get into the Big West. The second would be to head back to the Mountain West. In fact, Boise has not yet officially withdrawn from the Mountain West (their resignation from the league is not due until July 1 of this year). San Diego State has already given their official resignation.
The problem that Boise would have in staying in the Mountain West is that the Mountain West wants their football team — which means that Boise would have to cancel its move in football to the Big East. San Diego State has a provision in its agreement with the Big East that allows them a chance to withdraw its football from the conference in the event it does not have a travel partner west of the Rockies by July 1, 2013. Thus, if Boise State stays in the Mountain West for all sports, San Diego State could head back there as well. The Mountain West wants both teams back…which is one reason they stopped their current expansion at 10. If they get those two programs back, they will reach the “magic number” of 12 for football.
This is why the next major move belongs to the Big West. Boise State has renewed its interest in the conference. San Diego State wants them in it. The Big East does as well. If the Big West takes Boise, I expect them and SDSU to stay in the Big East for football. The Mountain West would probably then make a move to grab UTEP and New Mexico State, Idaho would drop down to FCS football and join the Big Sky, and the WAC would officially fold, leaving Denver and Seattle to try to find new homes.
On the other hand, if the Big West declines taking Boise, I would not be surprised to see them stay in the Mountain West and San Diego State may return there as well. UTEP would remain in Conference USA, Idaho would still drop to FCS and join the Big Sky, and New Mexico State would have to consider either the Sun Belt (if they can get in) or an independent status, at least in football, while their other teams would be looking at smaller conferences like the Southland or possibly the Summit League. With only 11 football members after Navy joins, a further move would also be likely from the Big East, which could result in a chain reaction again…though my guess is they would re-visit the Villanova to FBS issue one more time.
This is why the next major move in the conference re-alignment puzzle belongs to the Big West Conference. And we should have an answer in the next 4-6 weeks, as Boise State is fast approaching their deadline to withdraw from the Mountain West. In my opinion, San Diego State is a huge piece and could help elevate the rest of the conference much the way UNLV did back in the early 90s before they left. If getting that piece requires having your track and women’s tennis teams travel to Boise once a year, I still think it is worth it. There was a time the Big West was considered to be one of the marquee mid-major conferences. They have a great chance to return to that level and should not let the opportunity slip by.