Most of the conference realignment headlines have centered around the Big East, which formerly hosted Notre Dame in sports other than football and will host its first service academy — Navy — come 2015.
But the Mountain West Conference, which has been Air Force’s home since the league’s inception, hasn’t been immune to such major changes:
- TCU left to join the Big East, then ended up in the Big 12 beginning this season.
- Boise State joined the MWC in 2011 and has already punched out to join the Big East in 2013.
- BYU left the football-conference game entirely, leaving the MWC to go independent in 2011.
- Fresno State, Nevada and Hawaii joined the MWC this year (Hawaii for football only).
- San Jose State and Utah State will join next year. This would put Utah State in the same conference with in-state rival Utah … had Utah not bailed for the Pac-12 in 2011.
At times, it seems fans need a scorecard to keep up. And as their home for the past decade-plus shuffles its deck, the Falcons have been pursued by the Big East, rejecting the conference’s overtures in December only to become a potential target again as the league searches for a 14th football member. School officials maintain their preference to stay in the MWC, but the Big East brings some impressive ammunition to the bargaining table. So, before Air Force begins its MWC slate at UNLV on Saturday night, click through for a quick recap of three reasons conference realignment remains up for debate. Weigh in with your thoughts in the comments below, or on After Action’s back-from-the-dead Facebook page.
1. Follow the money. The MWC television deal is worth about $1 million per year per school for full-time members. Reports say a new Big East deal, currently being negotiated, could be worth $10 million per football school per year. That extra cash will cover a lot of trips to Rutgers, South Florida and wherever else the Big East might expand. And a solid TV deal could avoid situations like this year, where all six of Air Force’s home football games will have different video providers (ESPN2, Root Sports, the Altitude network, CBS, CBS Sports and the school’s athletic website, which showed the home opener).
2. Most wanted. Big East officials are in a bit of a bind beginning in 2015, attempting to forge a national identity for a football conference that appears to be designed via dartboard. Few schools outside of service academies offer the immediate name recognition Air Force can give. The Falcons also provide Boise State with a natural geographic rival, would help fill out an eventual seven-team “Western Conference” for football and would allow the league to showcase a Navy-Air Force rivalry game every year. And unlike BYU, whose in-house TV network reaches 65 million homes, according to SI.com, Air Force doesn’t have its own distribution deal to rely upon.
3. Best of both worlds? Navy, Boise State and San Diego State are joining the Big East as football-only members, allowing other sports to participate in regional conferences to cut travel costs. Air Force likely would be offered a similar option, and could rely on the Big West, for example, as a host for hoops and other programs. The TV deal wouldn’t be worth quite as much, but it would mean fewer baseball-team road trips to Connecticut.
4. The case to stay put. There’s no indication the school has budged from its December stance. Staying in the MWC keeps travel costs low, cuts down on travel time for aspiring officers balancing sports with school, and allows fans to bank on regional rivalries. It’s not a recipe for national exposure or big bucks, but as academy superintendent Lt. Gen. Mike Gould summed it up here, “We don’t make decisions based solely on the potential for a big TV contract. We’re about taking care of our cadets.”