Why stop at 11?
With the feeble state of the Big East and a wide-open lane to take control of the smaller conference realm, the Mountain West has room to get aggressive after Boise State decided to stay in the Mountain West and eschew the Big East.
Mountain West Commissioner Craig Thompson said today the league has been in talks with 3-5 teams. San Diego State -- which originally planned to join the Big East in a package deal with Boise -- is one of them.
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A league source says UTEP, SMU and Houston have recently shown interest in becoming members.
BYU is the biggest prize available, but the Cougars seem committed to independence -- at least for now.
Thompson sees his league having as many members as his board of directors wants, whether that's 11 or 14. ESPN first reported the Boise news.
"I think everything is on the table," Thompson said. "Long term is relative. We have a football season that kicks off in eight months. We're going to have to make decisions here in a few weeks."
Keeping Boise isn't cheap. The league will assist in Boise's Big East exit fees, despite the Broncos never playing a game in the conference. But Boise committed to doing so, which means the school owes $5 million unless provisions make it less.
According to the Mountain West, Boise State football games will be packaged with other Mountain West games as sold by the conference as part of the restrucutred CBS Sports Network contract. CBS is the primary rights holder, but the Mountain West has flexibility to shop secondary games to other networks. Also, the Mountain West is implementing a bonus system for schools that appear on national TV networks such as ESPN, FOX, NBC, etc.
It appears Boise can make good money off this formula. The MWC needs Boise, its most attractive television pawn, because it will sell more than, say, Utah State-Hawaii games. Depending on how the deal's cut, the Mountain West should be better positioned for more money, too. It's an interesting, creative strategy for the league and the school.
According to a league source, the Mountain West is primarily targeting ESPN and NBC Sports for its repackaged games.
"We will be very involved in the selection process with Boise State games and part of respective packages," Thompson said. "It's a very positive situation for the conference."
Even if the Mountain West stays at 11, it's clearly eyeing the top spot among the Group of Five. The Big East still has UConn and Cincinnati, who are holding out for the ACC. Heck, maybe the Mountain West should target Cincinnati. After all, playoff positioning is important. The conference with the best chance at a playoff bowl bid can walk into serious money.