Posted: 03/22/2012 12:19 AM
Posted by Jon Wilner on March 20th, 2012 at 3:11 pm | Categorized as BCS football, Mountain West Conference, realignment, San Jose State football, WAC football
The potential alliance/consortium/merger between the Mountain West and Conference USA hardly grabs headlines the way realignment at the BCS level has over the past 20 months or so.
But in terms of impacting the greatest number of student athletes — and they’re what college athletics is all about, right … right? — the future of the MWC/CUSA is far more important than whether the ACC expands again or the Big 12 stays at 10.
The situation directly involves the 16 planned future members of the MWC/CUSA super-conference and another 16-18 in the reconfigured WAC and Sun Belt, plus FCS schools considering moves to FBS.
It’s a big, big deal to a lot of schools and the 85 current and near-future scholarship football players at those schools.
I’ve checked with a handful of sources in the past 10 days, and the consensus is that we’ll know the details of the MWC/CUSA merger within the next month.
And it will be a merger — a full-blown, one-league-folded-into-another merger.
Based on my admittedly rudimentary understanding of the NCAA’s revenue-distribution model, the two leagues must merge in order for the schools to get the units (i.e., money) they’re owed from past participation in the NCAA Tournament.
The issue then becomes one of size: Will the merged, re-named conference stick with the 16 presumptive members … or will it expand to 18, 22 or 24 schools?
The answer likely depends on the structure that’s projected to generate the greatest football TV revenue, which means — to a certain extent — that the FBS future for hundreds of student-athletes hinges on ESPN.
If ESPN says that more teams equates to more dollars, then the MWC/CUSA will almost certainly raid the WAC for Utah State and/or San Jose State and/or LaTech … and it will almost certainly raid the Sun Belt for the Florida schools (FIU/FAU) and/or North Texas and/or Middle Tennessee State.
And if that happens, then the WAC and Sun Belt are in big trouble — they won’t have enough football-playing schools to exist in the current landscape.
Yes, UTSA and Texas State and Charlotte are becoming FBS members.
But there’s a scenario … an entirely plausible scenario … in which more teams leave the Sun Belt and WAC for the MWC/CUSA superconference than can adequately be replaced in a reasonable amount of time.
At that point, dozens of scholarship athletes at dozens of FBS schools could be faced with an uncertain future — all because ESPN (or any other network) determined that a 22-team MWC/CUSA super-conference was preferable to a 16/18-team league.
One possible option would be a WAC-Sun Belt scheduling alliance. (Putting together a 12-game slate would be a huge issue for six-team leagues.)
But it’s also possible that the NCAA would have to take action to protect the well-being of all the student athletes at the impacted schools.
I don’t know what form that action would take. A forced merger seems unlikely, given that the NCAA doesn’t operate college football the way it does college basketball. More likely, it could provide relief in regard to the minimum number of continuing members a conference requires.
Yes, admittedly, I’m getting ahead of myself.
But the point here is that the resolution of the MWC/CUSA merger — hardly a sexy topic for many FBS fans — is, in some respects, a far more significant issue than whether the ACC expands to 16 or the Big 12 goes to 12.
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