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Mountain West, Conference USA announce plan for football-only merger

Future of idea includes many unknowns, such as Big East intentions of members, BCS access


Sam Morris

UNLV head coach Bobby Hauck talks with quarterback Caleb Herring during a game against UNR Saturday, Oct. 8, 2011, at Mackay Stadium in Reno. UNR won the game 37-0 to extend its winning streak over UNLV to seven.

College football conferences to be combined

KSNV coverage of plan to merge the Mountain West Conference with the Conference USA to form a 22-team football league, Oct. 14, 2011.

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."

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  1. Um........ Why are we killing college football? This is just another weird move all motivated by money (directly & indirectly). I didn't mind 2 respectable teams added to the PAC12 and Nebraska in the Big Ten was cute but mid-major conferences are getting blown up. Yes this could spur a playoff format down the road but come on, Boise playing a conference game on the east coast? I guess it could help recruiting? Basketball just can't start soon enough!

  2. This is going to end badly. What an incredibly short-sighted and inane idea. This is a move to try and get Boise State and Air Force to stay, and I don't think it will work.

    I give this marriage five years maximum before it implodes. Large conferences with too huge a footprint simply don't work in college sports.

  3. ok so while some of you people sit there and say this was a bad move..my question is what was these confrences suppose to do?What sit there and let the sorry big east steal away there good teams,up intill the leauge folds?I look at it like this forming your own super confrence at the least you will have your own national championship,so you dont need the bcs!

  4. Here's what you do. Try to steal the teams like Huston and smu first. You work for the mnt west and your job is to assure it's survival. If conference USA is done then so be it. The mnt is in no way on the rise but we WERE not down and out like conference USA. Here is our only real problem, Craig Thomson. The PAC 10 was on the decline till Larry scott and the big twelve and big east fired there commissioners when they started losing teams. What did we do when we started losing our best teams, turn even more to our CRAPPY commissioner. That's the real answer.

  5. Wow. It's going to be like the old WAC again. Eventually other schools will break off and form another conference like the MWC did to the old WAC.

  6. This is precisely *NOT* like forming your own super conference. It's collecting a gaggle of leftovers and trying to say it's AQ worthy. Hint: It's probably not, unless Boise State stays and even then it's iffy.

    Agreed that Craig Thomson is one of the worst commissioners in the country, if not the worst, particularly after the Big East and Big 12 cleaned out their stiffs.

    Don't even get me started on the joke of The Mtn Network.

  7. Boise State in the Big East? This is getting out of control.

    The BCS is killing college football.

  8. Craig Thompson is an embarrassment both to himself and the schools of the MWC. What a joke.

  9. At least Craig Thompson is being proactive. Thank god we don't have someone like that utterly useless WAC commisioner Karl Benson.