Friday, Oct. 14, 2011 | 6 p.m.
If schools like Boise State, Air Force, Central Florida, SMU and Houston stay put in their current leagues, the move could have major potential.
If they stay and the Bowl Championship Series then decides that the Mountain West and Conference USA conglomerate are worthy of an automatic bid, even better.
Those are the major, looming unknowns after the two leagues announced a football-only merger between their 22 teams late Friday afternoon.
If those things don't happen, it could turn out to be a sprawling mess stretched out over five time zones.
Several details still need to be hammered out, so time will tell.
"Rather than await changes in membership due to realignment, it became clear the best way to serve our institutions was to pursue an original concept," MWC Commissioner Craig Thompson said in a statement. "The Mountain West and C-USA share a number of similarities, and the creative merger of our football assets firmly position our respective members for the future."
Thompson and C-USA Commissioner Britton Banowsky then held a joint teleconference, addressing several key questions and potential issues surrounding their merger. Among them:
• The two leagues will begin their merger as two divisions and hope to form a championship game between them, but to set up such a game would take NCAA legislation first. Eventually, both commissioners hinted, there could be multiple divisions set up within each existing league, creating a playoff-type format within the mega-conference itself.
• The goal of a championship game such as that would be to determine who landed the conference's automatic BCS bid. But, according to Thompson, conversations regarding the mega-conference's status as a potential automatic qualifier have not yet taken place.
• The two leagues would like to start the merger as early as next season, but a firm date has not yet been settled upon.
• Both leagues plan to continue to honor their current television contracts. C-USA's TV partners include Fox Sports and CBS Sports, as well as ESPN for its annual title game.
• Despite being reportedly courted by the Big East, Boise State and Air Force both took part in the unanimous vote on the Mountain West side in approving this merger. The Big East, which is down to six football-playing members after Pittsburgh and Syracuse announced their intentions to join the ACC, is looking to poach members from elsewhere to try to maintain its automatic qualifier status with the BCS.
• The merger is strictly for football only at this point, but in the other marquee sport — men's basketball— it could offer some relief to all schools involved in terms of scheduling. UNLV has felt its share of difficulties in getting quality opponents to come to the Thomas & Mack Center during the non-conference season. This could potentially open up some scheduling partnerships.
That's where, right now, this has the biggest impact on UNLV.
From a football standpoint, it doesn't right now appear that this will affect a whole lot for UNLV, though it could be key for the struggling program if this merger opens doors to the BCS.
UNLV Athletic Director Jim Livengood told the Sun on Friday evening that he is in full support of the move by the league, viewing it as the best move the school could make in a time in college athletics that is frustrating many.
"The fact that it's a coalition of schools in football, I think it adds a number of other things, and certainly it has some potential in basketball down the road," he said. "I'm not a big proponent of expansion and realignment and all that is going on, but sometimes, that's the way it is. That's the way that it's happening, and it's better to work with it and be a part of it. I'm not sure that all of this at the end of the day will be good for college football and, on a broader stroke, college athletics, but that's what it is, and that's what's happening."