MWC, C-USA to form new conference

The Mountain West and Conference USA have announced plans to form a new athletic association for the 2013-14 season, as a way to ensure their future survival due to heavy losses each league has suffered in realignment.

Presidents and chancellors of the 16 schools that will be a part of the group met in Dallas on Sunday to discuss the details. Those schools: Air Force, UAB, Colorado State, East Carolina, Fresno State, Hawaii, Marshall, Nevada, New Mexico, UNLV, Rice, Southern Miss, UTEP, Tulane, Tulsa and Wyoming. With the exception of Hawaii as a football-only member, the participation would involve all sports.

The Mountain West is losing Boise State and San Diego State to the Big East, while Conference USA is losing Houston, Memphis, SMU and UCF to the Big East as well. Most interesting in the announcement made Monday were these two points that will likely be included in the future structure of the new association:

  • Membership of 18 to 24 universities

  • Championship football game format that includes semifinal matchups

Growing from two to eight teams means the new association might have designs on absorbing the WAC, which is struggling to hang on after recent defections to the Mountain West, or possibly going after teams in the Sun Belt. Utah State and San Jose State, currently in the WAC, have been tied to the Mountain West in the past. In fact, Utah State was offered a spot in the Mountain West in 2010 but turned it down.

The championship game format, complete with semifinals, is obviously intriguing simply because that is something most folks have yearned for in college football as a whole. If the league grows to 24 teams, having four teams making it into a "championship round" would seem to increase interest. Especially if the semifinal round is on a home campus.

Now keep in mind regular-season scheduling will be contained to divisions, and those divisions are going to be set based on geography. There is a reason the news release cited this as essential to the new association: "bringing fiscal discipline into athletics and ensuring competitive fairness."

Right now, Conference USA has teams stretching from East Carolina to El Paso. So one would think that it would make more sense to have UTEP in a different division than the Pirates, just like they are now, with road games East contained to one or fewer a year, or perhaps eliminated entirely. If the league gets to 18 teams at a minimum with two nine-team divisions -- think eight regular-season football games contained to that division.

That should help alleviate some of the money that is spent on traveling alone, especially in the nonrevenue sports.