Are Mountain West and Conference-USA talking about merged title game?

Published: Friday, Aug. 20 2010 12:00 a.m. MDT

FORT WORTH, Texas — You knew, of course, that when its neighbor Utah deserted for the Pac-10, that things were destined not to be taken well at BYU.

Leaving for greener pastures, after all, is an old BYU Cougars' trick, not the Utes'. BYU dissatisfaction is what started the Mountain West Conference in the first place.

If you're keeping score at home, in fact — and in Fort Worth, BYU fans, they are, they are — Brigham Young University has now tried to walk out on TCU twice.

Can we all agree that the Cougars were on the brink of declaring their separation from the MWC?

Leagues don't call 11 p.m. news conferences unless they expect something to be happening early the next morning.

It's not, it seems, that the Mountain West needed Fresno State and Nevada to further its quest for an automatic BCS berth. It was BYU that needed Fresno and Nevada to help provide a soft Western Athletic Conference landing.

What followed was the classic scene from Peanuts, with Lucy pulling the football away from Charlie Brown.

Pretty embarrassing, especially for a school that has tried to bully the last two conferences it's been in.

What happens now was the mystery of the day on Thursday, a day when athletic directors were curiously unable to return phone calls and even some conference commissioners were nowhere to be found.

This much we knew — whatever BYU originally planned did not take place Thursday.

If taking two teams from the WAC was MWC commissioner Craig Thompson's bold ploy to ensure his league's survival, it worked.

The conference lives. But where will its champ8ion be playing football in the Januarys to come? The question persists.

That is what Thursday's meetings in Colorado Springs, Colo., were all about, according to various sources.

Late Thursday night, a source close to the situation said that representatives from the Mountain West and another league — believed to be Conference USA — met in Colorado to discuss a plan to match the two conferences' champions in a title game, with the winner gaining an automatic BCS berth.

"You're on the right track," said the source. "The lawyers have told them (the BCS) that it's time to give someone else a chance."

Before this week, the Mountain West had seemed content to continue building its football portfolio — BCS standings finishes, top 25 national rankings and overall conference strength — in hopes of meeting the published criteria in two years as an automatic qualifier for a BCS bowl game.

Where that portfolio and Thursday's reported prize correspond isn't known.

The automatic bid will be available whether BYU remains in the MWC or not, a source said.

No one was talking Thursday about a merged, 23-team league, or even a fat-trimmed 20-team one. But there would be scheduling crossovers between the two leagues in some sports.

The marquee part of the agreement would be the football championship game.

An 11-team Mountain West Conference could be unwieldy. Teams won't be eager to play 10 conference games.

But if the ultimate prize is a berth in the title game with the Conference USA champion, they don't need to play all of the other teams every season. Nor would it be really necessary for the MWC to add a 12th team and play a league championship game.

Conference title games are not always lucrative necessities.

In years, perhaps, when two undefeated Mountain West teams did not meet during the regular season, the league could designate the higher team in the BCS standings as its title game representative.

No announcement came Thursday, in any case.

No defection press conference by BYU took place, either.

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