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A new look at conference expansion

Conference expansion has been a hot topic across the country, and on Sunday the Newark Star-Ledger took the projections for new conferences to a whole other level.

The paper proposes splitting college football into six “mega conferences.” The Big Ten, SEC, Big 12, Pac-10 and Atlantic-10 all have 16 teams. The Big Atlantic would have 20 teams, though four of them would participate in basketball only.

The idea is interesting, especially when you consider that 15 teams from the nonautomatic qualifying conferences would be added across the various leagues.

Here’s how it would shake out for the non-AQs:

  • The Big 12 adds TCU, Tulsa, BYU, Utah, New Mexico, Houston and Colorado State after losing Nebraska and Missouri to the Big Ten and Colorado to the Pac-10.

  • The Pac-10 adds Boise State, Fresno State, Nevada, UNLV and San Diego State.

  • The Big Atlantic, which is a hybrid of the Big East and ACC, adds Memphis, Central Florida, and Temple.

As you can see in this model, the Mountain West is pretty much dissolved after expansion. The only teams remaining are Air Force and Wyoming. Similarly, the WAC loses its top three teams, leaving Idaho, Hawaii, Louisiana Tech, Utah State, New Mexico State and San Jose State. The remaining Mountain West teams likely would merge with the WAC, which would do away with the Mountain West altogether.

The choices on the other side of the country are interesting as well. Memphis and Central Florida have been on the expansion radar from the beginning, but Temple? Yes, Temple has been a hot-button topic since it joined the Mid-American Conference and created havoc with the scheduling. But the school has one winning football season since 1990 and one bowl game since 1979. It’s not exactly a football powerhouse, though coach Al Golden, who recently signed a new five-year contract, has put the program on the map. Upon seeing this model, teams such as East Carolina, Marshall, Southern Miss and Central Michigan likely won’t be happy.

So with four teams gone from Conference USA, expansion will likely open up into the Sun Belt Conference and perhaps even some of the WAC. Louisiana Tech could be a target, as could Middle Tennessee, Troy and North Texas, which would give C-USA back its presence in the Northern Texas/Oklahoma area.

Obviously, the Star-Ledger’s plan is just an idea, but it’s the most aggressive expansion plan to date. And it makes sense. All of the schools geographically fit their conferences and rivalries remain intact.

The Mountain West has been a target in all of this and there’s been a lot of speculation that expansion might eat most of the conference because of the markets it occupies and the strength of its top teams. And wouldn’t that be something? The Mountain West fights against the injustices of the BCS only to see its teams leave for more money and opportunity.

It will be interesting to see how this plays out in the upcoming months.