Take a bow, Mountain West. You did the hard part this week by folding hands and sticking together amidst the fog of fear, uncertainty, and college football realignment.
With Colorado State, the Air Force, San Diego State and Boise State resisting opposition from an American Athletic Conference, they all opted to jump from one dilapidated ship to board the other. This makes each of the FBS athletic programs a unicorn these days, whose administrators often struggle to resist a modest increase in media distribution.
For that, the Grading the Week staff stands up to thunderous applause.
Mountain West — A
But you’re not done yet, Mountain West Commissioner Craig Thompson.
As long as your convention remains intact, the hazy outlines of more Ayn Randian objectivist anarchy can still be seen in the distance. Certainly New Mexico will host a tremendous football program, with selfishness once again taking a disastrous ball for the regional rivalries and traditions that drew us to college athletics in the first place.
If Mountain West and its member schools are to be part of this brave new world, Thompson must be proactive in securing its future now. That is, as long as it continues to serve as a weight station with its convention to spend its time until the next round of Power 5 offers for its top events. (Which, of course, is somewhat unavoidable given the Big 12’s relentless wanderlust.)
Translation: Thompson must aggressively seek expansion opportunities that strengthen the Mountain West.
The way we see it, there are two options: either Thompson approaches AAC to form a partnership similar to the Pac-12/Big Ten/ACC alliance that could benefit both brands in future scheduling/media talks, Or he looks for other programs that will make Mountain West the clear No. 6 convention in FBS.
With respect to the latter, a handful of schools would make complete sense for the convention: SMU and Tulsa at AAC, and UTSA, UTEP and/or Rice at Conference USA.
Not only will Texas and Oklahoma open up fertile recruitment grounds, it will expand the conference’s geographic footprint to another time zone, bringing with it more broadcast windows, viewership and national relevance.
If last week has proved anything, it’s that the AAC’s status as a “Power 6” convention – though it may have been overtaken by ESPN – was largely exaggerated now that Cincinnati, Houston and Central Florida are the Big 12- are bound.
The distribution gap between AAC and Mountain West either narrows or disappears entirely when those three schools drop and AAC’s media partners demand renegotiation of their deals.
And with that the pendulum gets a chance to spin in the other direction.
Until this week, Mr. Thompson’s biggest achievement had been to be in the room while leaders of the SEC, ACC and Notre Dame mapped out a potential college football playoff expansion to 12 teams, which would open up access to a group of 5 schools.
Now, he’s the guy who helped stop the AAC poachers at the gate (or at least he can claim to be). If he plays his cards right, he might be remembered even more.