Mike Sorensen: Mountain West should add 10th member ASAP

Published: Monday, Jan. 22 2007 12:09 a.m. MST

Until recently I haven't been in favor of expanding the Mountain West Conference.

Too many leagues are getting too large and unwieldy, such as the current Big East with its 16 teams. That's how many teams the WAC of a decade ago had before eight schools broke away to form the current MWC. Two years ago, the league added a ninth school, TCU.

I think there are some advantages to a smaller league. You get to play each team at least once in football and twice in basketball and most other sports. There is more money to go around when teams make it to a BCS bowl game or the NCAA Tournament.

But a couple of factors have changed my mind.

One is the expanded college football schedule.

Starting last year, the NCAA starting allowing all Division I-A schools to play 12 regular-season games every year, not just on certain years with the right amount of Saturdays between Labor Day and Thanksgiving or whatever that policy was.

With the 12th game, schools are able to add another conference game and still have three extra games as was the case with the 11-game schedule. That means a nine-game conference schedule, like the Pac-10 has implemented.

To me, it makes more sense for MWC schools to be playing a 10th conference member than a I-AA school like so many big schools are doing these days for their 12th game.

It's already happening among the local schools. Utah played I-AA Northern Arizona last year and BYU plays I-AA Eastern Washington this year. In 2008 Utah is scheduled to play Weber State.

I'd rather see a competitive league game than one of these so-called "automatic" wins against a smaller division school and I think fans would, too.

Some folks argue that it isn't fair because some teams would get four home games and some five in a nine-game schedule. I say, hey, they had an uneven schedule all those years when the league had eight members, and it seemed to work OK. Plus in football, home field isn't quite the big deal as it is in basketball and other sports (just look at the Utah-BYU football series where the visiting team has won 11 of the past 15 years).

The other big factor is the travel schedule. Almost every sport except football employs "travel partners," which makes scheduling more uniform. The basketball schedule has been a mess since TCU joined the league last year.

In an effort to make it fair for everyone, travel partners have been eliminated and the schedule is now a hodgepodge with games on Saturdays and either Tuesday or Wednesday.

In a recent 10-day span, the Utah men's basketball team went to Las Vegas for a Wednesday game, to Fort Collins the following Tuesday and Albuquerque on Saturday with a Saturday home game in the middle.

It can't be good for players to be playing several midweek games, which means they're missing two full days of classes and sometimes three. Also the cost of travel is much more with eight one-game trips, as opposed to four two-gamers, such as Colorado State and Wyoming on the same weekend trip.

So if the league does go to 10, who should it pick up?

Well, I've always been partial to our own Utah State. The Aggies would be a good fit for men's basketball, along with several minor sports. Of course that's never going to happen because of the school's proximity to Utah and BYU and the current state of its football program.

There's UTEP, Fresno State and Hawaii, schools that were kicked out of the old WAC, but they each have too many negatives.

Tulsa is a possibility with a solid football program and a basketball program that has been very good in recent years. For geography purposes, it would be a natural travel partner for TCU.

But the best choice would be Boise State.

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