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Dick Harmon: Before massive changes, the MWC is making noise

Published: Tuesday, Jan. 18 2011 12:03 a.m. MST

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PROVO — The Mountain West Conference is about to implode and be reinvented. It's about to become the new version of the old WAC.

It's a league that has battled for attention while having a few moments in the sun.

It's a league that has had its members win a Sugar Bowl and a Rose Bowl, and now it boasts two top 10 basketball teams for the second straight week.

That's not too shabby since finding MWC sports coverage with its TV partners is like a playing remote-control Sudoku.

But on the eve of Armageddon — when Utah is bailing for the lofty Pac-10, TCU is climbing to the Big East in 2012 and BYU is striking out like a 14th colony — this conference isn't fading easily.

It's like a middle-aged Hollywood star on the verge of losing roles because of wrinkles, face-lifts and extra width on her fenders. Then a script comes along that buys the wannabe diva a little more screen time.

Some would say the MWC never was marquee material, but you can't argue with national rankings — both in basketball and football. That is a sign that the country is showing respect to the league.

On Monday, the USA Today's coaches and AP polls had San Diego State at No. 6 and BYU moved up to No. 9. For the first time in its dozen-year history, the league has two teams rooted in the Top 10 two weeks in a row.

Two Top 10 basketball teams? Something the hallowed ACC can't say this week.

SDSU's Cox Arena is busting out of the aisles for the Aztecs — a feat that shouldn't go unnoticed since it's an athletic program set in a mega-metro population center that generally treats that school's athletic events like a leper colony.

The MWC has three schools — New Mexico, BYU and UNLV — ranked in the Top 25 in basketball attendance the last few years.

BYU's Jimmer Fredette, who leads the nation in scoring, is being talked about as the national player of the year. He's becoming a regular on "SportsCenter" as well as a kind of folk hero to others across the country.

The MWC has had the best conference bowl record in the nation for nearly half a decade. One could argue that its football and basketball is better than the Pac-10 as of late.

TCU baseball made it to the College World Series last year and Frog coach Jim Schlossnage was named the national coach of the year, while his catcher Bryan Holaday earned the Johnny Bench Award as the nation's top catcher.

TCU's football team remains undefeated, untied and unrecognized as a national football champion despite the BCS's exercise in giving us Auburn over Oregon and preventing a playoff that would perhaps give a more fair understanding of undefeated and untied.

TCU's Gary Patterson (2009) and Utah's Kyle Whittingham (2008) were named national coaches of the year in consecutive seasons, while at the same time folks were trying to run Rich Rodriguez from Michigan, Bobby Bowden from Florida State and Penn State was working hard to keep Joe Paterno from being embalmed.

Sure, the league was created out of small potatoes, but that doesn't mean it hasn't produced some nice dishes.

The MWC produced No. 1 picks in the NBA and NFL drafts in former Utes Andrew Bogut and Alex Smith.

In four seasons (2006-09), BYU was the only team in the country to win at least 10 games in football and 25 games in basketball each season.

With the addition of Boise State to its original members, it would have been fun to see what this league would have been like had July 2010 never happened. But it is a picture we will never see with the departures of Utah, BYU and TCU.

Time is ticking away on the MWC as we know it. Pretty soon, it will change forever — for better or for worse.

The league created its own groundbreaking TV deal, albeit an enterprise that coughs up nickels instead of gold, but it tried.

It's a league that's been made fun of, poked fun at and both praised and teased. But in a sense, it has done about all it was able to do with what was given when CSU President Albert Yates assembled the first roll call on May 26, 1998.

As an unwashed league outside the six automatic qualifying BCS conferences designed specifically to financially hold the MWC and others down and out, the MWC really has excelled.

And this season — as many things MWC fade to another shade — is no exception.

e-mail: dharmon@desnews.com

twitter: Harmonwrites

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