Fasten your seatbelts. Make sure your seat backs and tray tables are in their full upright and locked positions. Whoa Nellie, here we go again!
Make no mistake about things, this is a decision that potentially could, again, shake up life for those of us here in Wyoming and Mountain West country. There’s wide speculation that the ACC will raid the Big East to find a replacement team for Maryland — Connecticut is the name most tossed about currently, and it would be a logical fit given the ACC’s prominence as a basketball league. There’s also speculation that this crack of instability in the ACC and hunger for growth by the Big Ten might prompt other leagues to make still more moves.
Florida State and Georgia Tech to the SEC, anyone?
Just as the game of big-conference musical chairs impacted our neck of the woods the last time around, this shift will also ripple toward our part of the country. After all, don’t forget that starting next year the Big East Conference expands from sea to shining sea to include San Diego State and Boise State.
But here’s the kicker — after the championship playoff announcement, there’s really no need for either of those schools to make the move. The Mountain West and Big East are both part of a “Group of Five” classification that includes Conference USA, the MAC and the Sun Belt. The highest ranked team from that mish-mosh of oft-overlooked schools will have a place at the elite bowl stage and, possibly, a spot in the national championship playoff.
Under such a format, those five conferences are, in essence, one huge league battling for one highly coveted position in a major bowl. Playing in one as opposed to another really confers no significant advantage, but if you’re a school like San Diego State, all those cross-country conference games could take a significant toll on both a school’s travel budget and its student-athletes, who will fly across three time zones and back repeatedly.
There’s also no real recruiting advantage. I highly doubt either San Diego State or Boise State are going to forego their usual recruiting hotbeds in favor of flying across the country to woo recruits along the Eastern seaboard where their conference opponents are located. Sure, you might pick off the odd recruit here or there, but the bulk of the efforts will be spent where they always have been, closer to home.
Not surprisingly, ESPN reported earlier this week that the Mountain West was sitting down with officials from both Boise State and San Diego State. Also at that discussion table, according to ESPN, was BYU, which has to be kicking itself for its decision to try going independent after learning that the Group of Five had earned a guaranteed spot on the major bowl stage.
Had it stayed a member of the Mountain West, BYU would only need to be the highest ranked team in the five conferences. History says they would contend for that status on a fairly routine basis.
As an independent, the Cougs need to finish in the top 10 or 12 teams in the nation. That’s a taller order to fill. Sure, BYU is enjoying an extra $4 million as an independent, but that would look like table scraps compared to just one trip to the big bowl table every few years.
So as we head into the holiday season, fans might want to take team attire off their shopping lists, or at least those brands that include any mention of conference affiliation. It looks like we could be in for another incredibly active winter and spring of musical chairs.