DENVER -- The Mountain West Conference has begun informal conversations with universities that might be left out in the shake-up of the college football landscape.
In addition to the league's talks with schools from the Big 12 and Big East that might be excluded in conference realignment, Mountain West commissioner Craig Thompson has had conversations with Conference USA commissioner Britton Banowsky about a football merger.
Such a union would create a super-conference with at least 22 teams in two divisions stretching from Hawaii to the East Coast.
"You don't want to be left standing in a position that doesn't best drive you," Thompson told the Associated Press on Tuesday. "You just want to put your membership in the best light possible. If that includes adding people, if that includes the creative consolidation conversation with Conference USA -- you just want to be building the best stage for your members."
With the Big East's shake-up, Thompson would be receptive to keeping TCU in the Mountain West beyond its scheduled departure after this season if school officials have second thoughts about joining a league that lost Syracuse and Pittsburgh to the Atlantic Coast Conference this week.
With Texas and Oklahoma considering moves to the Pac-12, Thompson is keeping an eye on any schools that might be left over from a possible breakup of the Big 12.
No invitations have been extended from the Mountain West, which lost Utah and BYU this season as the Utes bolted for the Pac-12 and the Cougars became an independent in football and joined the West Coast Conference for all other sports.
The Mountain West added Boise State this year and next year will bring in Hawaii (in football only), Nevada and Fresno State.
"If in the worst case there's a 10-team Mountain West Conference in August 2012, that's not a terrible place to be," Thompson said. "But are there better options? That's what we're trying to determine."
Thompson said he's spoken with his counterpart at C-USA many times about merging football leagues. Should a plan be hatched, each conference would play separate schedules with the winners meeting in a title game.
"Basically, it would be two separately run conferences and business as usual, if you will," Thompson said. "We're just trying to see if this is an option for these 22 schools."
A larger conference could give the Mountain West more leverage to garner an automatic BCS berth like the six major football conferences have. As it stands now, the Mountain West will know after this year whether it has qualified or needs to seek a waiver and get approval by a 75 percent majority of the BCS oversight committee members to obtain automatic status for the 2012-13 season.
"One of the intended goals [of a super conference] is that the best team, however determined out of these 22 to 24 institutions, would get an automatic BCS berth," Thompson said. "That's something that would preclude whatever is perhaps happening in the Mountain West world."
These days, Thompson is trying to sort out fact from fiction with all the speculation from around the country. It was sparked by Texas A&M's decision to seek membership in the Southeastern Conference, which would welcome the Aggies if they can resolve any legal issues over leaving the Big 12.
"It's trying to work in a world right now that's speculative but you're asked to give definitive answers," Thompson said. "What will we do if this happens? What will we do if that happens?
We're trying to position ourselves for any number of scenarios."