ANAHEIM, Calif. — Turn out the lights, Jimmer Fredette. The Mountain West Conference that we knew and loved is dead.
At the NCAA basketball tourney, it was a bittersweet round of 16 for the league that has defined sports in the Rocky Mountains.
San Diego State lost 74-67 to the University of Connecticut.
There wasn't enough Fredette to prevent Brigham Young from getting bounced by the University of Florida 83-74 in overtime.
"I've had a lot of people come up and say, 'This has got to be killing you,'" Mountain West commissioner Craig Thompson told me Thursday. "And I say: 'Hey, it's business.'"
At the sound of the final buzzer, a league aching for coast-to-coast recognition was slapped in the face with the harsh realization that disintegration of the Mountain West as a national mover-and-shaker will soon be cold, stone reality.
Why should anybody care?
Sports in the Mountain West have never tasted more sweet success.
The business of college athletics has never stunk worse.
Tradition be trashed, University of Utah, Brigham Young and Texas Christian are all bailing on a league just when it was starting to get really good.
"Yeah, it hurts to see them all leave. I'm human. The frustrating part is the conference matured in a way we envisioned. But now it all changes," said Thompson, who watched as the Aztecs were eliminated from the West Regional semifinals because they ultimately had no answer for 36 points from UConn guard Kemba Walker.
Let me get this straight:
Brigham Young suspended sophomore Brandon Davies from the basketball team for making love to his girlfriend because it was the honorable thing to do, and the Cougars were saluted nationwide for their integrity.
But the same BYU walked out on a decades-old relationship with fellow Mountain West schools such as Colorado State University and the Air Force Academy in the obvious pursuit of squeezing the last buck from amateur athletics, and the ugly divorce is considered nothing more than the cost of doing business in the 21st century.
Where's the honor in that?
In a cyberspace world where there's more loyalty to the television remote control than your friends and neighbors from down the street, it's a crying shame the Mountain West could not prevent greed from ripping the league apart despite a year with so many reasons to stand up and cheer.
On the football field, Texas Christian won the Rose Bowl.
On the basketball court, San Diego State and Brigham Young held down top-10 spots in the national polls for long stretches of the season.
"We have a really, really good basketball league. We as coaches and players know that, and I think the people who follow and cover the league and the fans know and appreciate that," San Diego Aztecs coach Steve Fisher said. "You build reputations on a national level by what you do against the marquee teams nonconference, but more importantly, what you do in postseason play."
Forgive Fisher. He is old school, from a distant, forgotten time when reputations were valued more than greenbacks in the bank.
The Mountain West might have climbed to fourth among all conferences in strength, as measured by the RPI computer rankings, ahead of even the storied Atlantic Coast Conference.
But football money is all that really matters. That's why Utah is joining Colorado in a California gold rush for the Pac-12. That's why BYU will condemn its basketball team to road trips for the pleasure of playing in the 3,000-seat gym at Pepperdine.
Men such as Thompson and Fisher are far too classy to say anything negative as TCU, BYU or Utah slip out the back door. So allow me: Get lost.4 comments on this story
"Our goal when we lose a couple (league members) and gain a couple is to maintain the quality of the league," Fisher said. "I know there will be teams in our league that will be fighting not only to get to the NCAA Tournament, but to get to the Sweet 16 and beyond."
The Mountain West Conference has crumbled.
Rest in pieces.
(Mark Kiszla is a sports columnist for The Denver Post.)