Mike Sorensen: Tulsa is a good fit for MWC

Published: Monday, Oct. 20 2008 12:43 a.m. MDT

With the Mountain West Conference enjoying its finest football season ever, with three teams in the Top 25 and a strong possibility of one cracking the BCS again, the league ought to consider expansion to 10 teams while it's red-hot.

The league, with Utah, TCU and BYU currently ranked in the top 18 in the nation, needs to grab that undefeated, nationally-ranked, blue-jersey-wearing school that is piling up points every week and also has a chance of cracking the BCS.

That's right, the MWC needs to snatch up the University of Tulsa as fast as it can.

You thought I was talking about Boise State?

I actually like Boise State and have been a proponent of the MWC adding the school in the past, despite that ghastly blue turf and an arena named after Taco Bell.

While a lot of people would love to add Boise as the 10th member of the MWC, especially around these parts, since Boise is as close as St. George, Tulsa would make just as much sense, if not more so. Besides, can the Broncos score 77 points and pile up 791 yards like the Golden Hurricane did in Saturday night's win over UTEP?

First, there's the population. Tulsa is the 45th-largest city in the U.S. with nearly 400,000 residents and a metropolitan area close to a million. Boise has about half as many residents, although its metro population is 650,000 and growing.

Population relates directly to TV markets, and the reality is, that's a big factor in college athletics these days. Tulsa's market ranks 61st in the country and nearby Oklahoma City is 45th, while Boise is clear back at 112th.

Then consider the travel aspect.

Tulsa would be a terrific traveling partner for TCU. Right now, TCU is all by its lonesome, clear over in eastern Texas, more than 700 miles from the nearest MWC city. Tulsa is just 270 miles north of Fort Worth, which in a league that stretches from Southern California to Texas, is nothing.

What's the big deal about traveling partners? They make no difference in football, but in nearly every other sport, teams travel to games in pairs — at least they do when the league isn't unbalanced as it is now.

The MWC schedules have been fouled up ever since TCU came in the league, and schools could save a lot of money if they started playing two games the same weekend on the same trip, rather than making a bunch of single-game trips as they do now. Basketball could go back to a Thursday-Saturday schedule, rather than have all those Tuesday and Wednesday games.

Facilities? Both Tulsa and Boise State have 30,000-seat stadiums that have recently been renovated. Boise has a larger basketball arena, but Tulsa's almost-new 8,500-seat arena is a beauty, and last year the Golden Hurricane drew more than four MWC schools and slightly more than the Broncos.

How about recruiting? Both Utah and BYU have made inroads in Texas recruiting in recent years, and having a team from Texas' neighbor wouldn't hurt. Oklahoma is the 28th-largest state in the country with more than 3.5 million residents, while Idaho is 39th with 1.5 million.

As for academics, which are an important consideration to college presidents, Tulsa has a big edge, at least according to the latest U.S. News and World Report rankings of top colleges.

Tulsa was ranked a Tier 1 school, 83rd in the country, ahead of every MWC school. BYU and TCU were the highest-ranked MWC schools, in a tie for 113th, just ahead of Colorado State and Utah. Boise State didn't even make the list of Tier 3 and Tier 4 schools (UNLV and San Diego State were in the latter category).

Either Boise State or Tulsa would be competitive in football and immediately join BYU, Utah and TCU among the elite of the league. Everyone around here knows Boise State's recent record against local schools, while Tulsa owns a 56-14 victory over New Mexico this year and beat BYU 55-47 last year.

Both have improving men's basketball programs and each excels in different minor sports. Tulsa fields 16 men's and women's sports and Boise State offers 17, comparable to most MWC schools.

Of course, even if the MWC did make a play for Tulsa, the university may not have any interest in moving leagues again. After being in the Missouri Valley Conference and a few years as an independent, Tulsa joined the 16-team WAC in 1996 and stayed until jumping to Conference USA in 2005.

But the MWC is clearly a superior league to USA, especially in football and basketball. If Tulsa is worried about joining a spread-out MWC, it can't be any worse than Conference USA, which stretches from El Paso, Texas, to Huntington, West Virginia, to Greenville, North Carolina. It's nearly 2,000 miles from El Paso to Greenville, where East Carolina is located, while according to the Mountain West media guide the biggest spread in the MWC is the 1,396 miles from Salt Lake to Fort Worth.

Like I said earlier, I've been a proponent of expanding the MWC to 10 teams and have said the league should consider grabbing Boise State.

But not before giving Tulsa a strong look.


E-mail: sor@desnews.com

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