Sources: Schools may rejoin MWC

Boise State, San Diego State and BYU have had conversations with Mountain West membership about the possibility of returning to the league, sources told ESPN.

The talks originated after last week's decision in Denver by the BCS commissioners to award an automatic access bowl berth to the highest-rated champion to the "Group of Five" conferences. That decision in essence put the Mountain West on equal footing, as far as playoff access is concerned, with the Big East starting in 2014.

The "Group of Five" includes the Mountain West, Big East, Conference USA, Mid-American and Sun Belt conferences.

Sources said Monday those talks are expected to bring on greater significance after Maryland announced it was leaving the ACC for the Big Ten. ESPN reported Rutgers will announce Tuesday it is also leaving for the Big Ten. That means the Big East will lose Rutgers and then potentially either UConn or Louisville to the ACC.

A San Diego State official said: "Nothing changes, we are committed to the Big East."

With the Big East losing two more schools and having the same playoff access as the Mountain West, Boise State and San Diego State are reconsidering their options. One of the main reasons both schools opted to join the Big East was the draw of more television revenue.

However, it's unknown how much more the Big East's future media rights will be worth compared to the Mountain West's after losing Rutgers to the Big Ten and another member to the ACC. It's also unknown how much the Mountain West's media rights deal would increase if Boise State, San Diego State or BYU returned to the MWC.

Even though Boise State and San Diego State don't join the Big East until July 1, 2013, the schools would have to pay an exit fee to get out of their contract. Both schools signed contracts with the Big East on Dec. 6, 2011, with a $5 million buyout, but that amount was increased to $10 million in January when Navy announced it was joining the league in 2015.

BYU, which left the Mountain West after the 2010 season to become an independent, would have to get out of an eight-year contract with ESPN to rejoin the Mountain West or Big East.

ESPN spokesman Josh Krulewitz declined comment when asked if ESPN would allow BYU out of its contract.

BYU's deal with ESPN is worth nearly $4 million a year through 2018, with an option for 2019, sources said.

BYU wouldn't be able to earn that much in the Mountain West, but the Cougars could be interested in returning to a conference because it would get greater access to a major bowl berth.

BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall said after Monday's practice he "didn't know anything about" whether the Cougars were considering a return to the Mountain West.

"I don't know what to tell you," Mendenhall said. "There's nothing I'd be shocked by with realignment, et cetera, I'm just trying to get our team ready to play."

Mendenhall said the Cougars' access in the new four-team playoff beginning in 2014 is no different than the current BCS system.

"It's about the same access we had before, the way I see it," Mendenhall said. "We still have to be undefeated, I think, to be considered."

As an independent, BYU would have to finish among the top 10 to 12 teams in the nation to earn an access bowl berth. However, if the Cougars were in the MWC or Big East, they could get an access berth by being the highest-rated champion of the "Group of Five."

The latest conference realignment moves continue to decimate the Big East, which has only one football member remaining from 2003 -- a Temple team that initially was dismissed from the league.

In the past year, the Big East has had six schools -- West Virginia, TCU, Pittsburgh, Syracuse, Notre Dame and now likely Rutgers -- leave or announce they were leaving the league, with a seventh school expected to go to the ACC to replace Maryland.

Meanwhile, the Mountain West's membership next season will consist of 10 football programs: Air Force, Colorado State, Fresno State, Hawaii, Nevada, New Mexico, San Jose State, UNLV, Utah State and Wyoming.

When the MWC announced this past summer it was adding San Jose State and Utah State to replace Boise State and San Diego State, MWC commissioner Craig Thompson said then the league purposely didn't expand past 10 in case the Broncos and Aztecs had a change of heart.

"Our board has determined that we're staying at 10 football-playing institutions," Thompson said in July. "We're going to line up with that formation, but at the same time we'll keep our eyes on the landscape and if there's a need to change, we'll do that."