Conference USA members Rice and Texas-El Paso are being mentioned as possible Mountain West Conference expansion candidates as the MWC begins regularly scheduled meetings this weekend, multiple sources told CBS Sports.

There is a faction of league presidents that favor Rice because of its overall academic reputation, sources said. In 2014, the football program finished 26th nationally in the Learfield Sports Directors Cup standings, which measures academic achievement of sports programs. The nationally-ranked baseball program finished 17th last season.

UTEP's communication with the Mountain West goes back at least three years. A possible membership change has more to do with geography. The school’s nearest CUSA opponent is Texas-San Antonio, 534 miles away.

The Mountain West would be more of a geographic fit for the Miners, which were members of the old Western Athletic Conference from 1967-2004. All 12 current Mountain West members were members of the now-defunct WAC.

Academically, UTEP is rated 10th in the latest Washington Monthly rankings.

Two sources familiar with the process said expansion of the MWC is not imminent. One huge hurdle: The current 12-team league splitting revenue 13 or 14 ways. Major rightsholders may not be in position to pay any more for league rights given current financial conditions.

“I don’t think it’s any point where they’re going vote on it right now,” said one source of the Mountain West meetings.

Another source course close to the situation said the expansion discussions are “accurate but misleading,” in that no immediate action is expected to be taken.

Mountain West presidents and athletic directors are meeting Sunday and Monday in Phoenix.

The immediate reaction by some will be to fear another round of conference realignment. If any action is taken by the Mountain West, it would be considered a one-off. Most of the other conferences -- aside from CUSA and the Big Ten -- have media rights deals that extend into the middle of the next decade.

In 2005, UTEP left the WAC to join CUSA along with Rice, SMU and Tulsa. One of new CUSA commissioner Judy MacLeod’s biggest challenges is renewing a new TV deal. The current deals with CBS, Fox and ESPN expire after the 2015-16 academic year.

Any Mountain West expansion candidate would have to bring approximately $3.5 million in annual equity to the league. The conference distributed a record $47 million to its 12 members last season. Without a team in the New Year’s Six, that number will be closer to $40 million this year.

The current MWC television contract expires after the 2019-20 academic year.

BYU has long been speculated to be a Mountain West expansion candidate since it chose independence in 2011. One source termed current Mountain West support for BYU as “fractioned."

The Mountain West has only 11 basketball-playing schools. Wichita State of the Missouri Valley inquired about membership two years ago, according to a source, but that’s as far as it went.

Rice is one of two schools that could see admission into the Mountain West. (USATSI)
Rice is one of two schools that could see admission into the Mountain West. (USATSI)