Big 12 expansion is the ball of yarn occupying most off-the-field headlines in college football, but that arithmetic-challenged league isn’t the only FBS conference considering expansion.
Mountain West commissioner Craig Thompson indicated over the weekend his conference may consider adding members whether or not they lose teams to the Big 12. “I’ve challenged our membership to think about expansion — with or without losing [current] members,” Thompson told the Salt Lake Tribune.
Colorado State and Air Force are the only MW members of the 11 Big 12 finalists, and both are considered long shots for addition. (For whatever that’s worth.) If the Big 12 does indeed agree to expand — never count your chickens on getting this conference to agree on anything — the American is expected to bear the brunt of the damage. Houston and Cincinnati are considered favorites, and Central Florida, Connecticut, South Florida, SMU, Temple and Tulane have yet to be told no.
And, reading between the lines of Thompson’s comments, it appears the Mountain West could try to make a power play against the AAC.
“If we’re expanding,” Thompson said, “we’re going east.”
Could the Mountain West attempt to grab two of, say, SMU, Tulane and Tulsa if they’re still available after the Big 12’s game of musical chairs? Or could they look even further east than that? (Personally, I’ve always thought the Mountain West missed a chance to add Houston and Boise State during its 10-team days with TCU, BYU and Utah way back when… but that’s another conversation for another day.)
The incentive here is obvious: dollar signs. The College Football Playoff pays out money for each of its New Year’s Six participants — $4 million in 2015 — and the AAC is the Mountain West’s top competition for the guaranteed Group of 5 slot. Boise State claimed the Group of 5 Fiesta Bowl slot in 2014, but Houston took it last year, and the Cougars are the odds-on favorites to grab it again this fall.
Should the AAC lose two (or four) of its top members and the Mountain West grab a couple of the leftovers, Thompson’s league would be in position to win back its claim as the top mid-major conference.