Representatives from Colorado State and New Mexico have shown preliminary but informal interest in forming a new conference that would have Boise State and/or BYU as its foundation, CBSSports.com has learned.
It's not clear what other schools would be added, but it's obvious the race is on to establish the most dominant conference below the five power conferences going forward in 2014 (Big Ten, Pac-12, Big 12, ACC, SEC). CBSSports.com reported earlier this week that the Big East had reached out to UNLV and Fresno State to shore up its shaky prospects on the football side.
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This latest development might be a reciprocal answer to the Big East's move. Whatever conference in the so-called Group of Five (MAC, Conference USA, Mountain West, Sun Belt, Big East) emerges as the strongest, it would have the best chance of getting the automatic berth that goes to the highest ranked of the group's champions beginning in 2014.
At issue for the moment is the Mountain West TV contract, which still has three years to run. The deal with CBS reportedly pays $12 million per year. However, a new conference theoretically could strike its own -- preferably more lucrative -- TV deal. That current CBS deal runs through the 2015 football season and 2015-16 basketball season.
The MWC is hoping to renegotiate part of that deal so it could hold the rights to more first-, second- and third-tier games that could be licensed to other networks. That would allow the MWC to make more money off the deal by keeping the revenue from those games. Example: The MWC would take slightly less than that $12 million if it was able to hold the particular rights to certain games. It then could, in theory, "sell" that game (or games) to NBC Sports Network, Turner, ESPN or Fox. Creating a new league would allow more leeway in structuring more profitable rights fees.
One source said it is unlikely that CBS would give up the rights to first-tier games, which the source said includes the network's choice of the top 15 contests in the Mountain West. That would devalue the worth of the contract to CBS.
The possibility of a new league is only in the talking stages at this point. In fact, MWC commissioner Craig Thompson told CBSSports.com on Friday he had just spoken to Colorado State president Tony Frank and the subject of a new league had not come up. Another source said the talk could be between athletic directors only at this point, New Mexico's Paul Krebs and Colorado State's Jack Graham.
What's not clear is what kind of leverage Colorado State and New Mexico would have in this agreement other than trying to convince Boise and BYU to form a new league. Neither Colorado State nor New Mexico brings a TV market or marketable brand name to the table to interest rightsholders. A new league would also face issues regarding carrying over NCAA tournament basketball units and access to the new college basketball playoff beginning in 2014.
Boise State and BYU continue to be the biggest prizes below college football's Mendoza Line. Boise is in a sort of limbo. It left the Mountain West on July 1 but doesn't officially join the Big East until July 1, 2013. If one or both could be coaxed into forming a new league, that might convince the likes of San Diego State, SMU and Houston to come along, a source said.
BYU continues to say it is happy after just completing its second year of independence in football. However, because of that independence, it will be paid only a miniscule amount out of the revenue produced by the college football playoff. Also, as it currently stands, BYU and Army would have the worst automatic access point to the playoff. If they don't finish in the top four, neither would be guaranteed access to one of the six playoff bowls. Navy would be in that situation as well for one season in 2014 before it joins the Big East in 2015.
But no one is sure if there is going to be a Big East (in football) and/or Mountain West going forward. It's clear that any conference with Boise and/or BYU, though, is going to have the upper hand among the Group of Five. As has been reported, both schools have also talked to the Mountain West about their future.
Boise has spent the last two seasons in the MWC. BYU was a member of the Mountain West from 1999-2010.