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The Countdown

A bottom-to-top assessment of the F.B.S. landscape heading into the 2012 season.

Need to Know

Idaho, N.M.S.U. Hope Sun Belt Moves West

If Idaho and New Mexico State wish to remain part of the F.B.S. — and here’s guessing they do — each could choose to attempt to make a go of things as an Independent. There are two issues with dropping any conference affiliation: one, the Vandals and Aggies would need to find seven games to replace the conference games lost with the WAC’s disintegration; and two, the two schools would need to find a way to recoup the lost conference revenue. As an Independent, one way for the Vandals and Aggies to keep the money flowing into their respective athletic departments is to play seven or eight road games against B.C.S. conference competition every season. Is that a tenable solution for two programs that have failed to win with any consistency since joining the WAC in 2005 — and for the decades prior to joining the league?

If Idaho and N.M.S.U. did try the Independent route, it would only be to maintain the cachet that being part of the F.B.S. carries for the division’s 124 members. New Mexico State has won six non-conference games against F.B.S. competition since 2005, with three of those wins coming over New Mexico. If the Aggies are 20-58 over the last seven years as a member of the WAC, what would the program’s record be over seven seasons as an F.B.S. Independent?

The Vandals and Aggies are holding out for an invite from one of three non-B.C.S. conferences: Conference USA, the Mountain West and the Sun Belt. The two programs shouldn’t hold their breath waiting for an invite from the former pair. Conference USA may have plans in place to add two more teams over the next 24 months, but the conference is looking more towards current F.C.S. programs like Charlotte and Appalachian State.

Neither team brings anything to the table for the Mountain West. Adding Idaho and N.M.S.U. greatly dilutes that league’s product. The M.W.C. has already swapped Boise State, T.C.U. and others for programs like Utah State and San Jose State: bringing in Idaho and N.M.S.U. simply makes the league weaker, not stronger, even if the two teams would provide a pair of easy wins for the Mountain West programs with a pulse.

It’s Sun Belt or bust. It’s the only league that would provide either team with a genuine opportunity for squeezing into bowl play. Both the Vandals and Aggies played in the Sun Belt from 2001-4. Current Sun Belt commissioner Karl Benson formerly held the same position in the WAC, though that may not be a good thing — Benson has seen what the Vandals and Aggies bring to the table.

Whether the Sun Belt is interested in adding the two teams depends on the conference’s stance on future expansion. After adding Texas State and Georgia State for the 2013 season — replacing Conference USA-bound North Texas and Florida International — the league will enter next season with 10 teams. Adding N.M.S.U. and Idaho to create a 12-team conference keeps things even, but it doesn’t work geographically.

A 12-team Sun Belt would create an East and West division, thereby creating a conference title game, but there aren’t enough true “West” teams to make an even split. If Idaho and N.M.S.U. are asked to join the league in 2013, an East and West split might look like this:

East
Florida Atlantic
Georgia State
Middle Tennessee State
South Alabama
Troy
Western Kentucky

West
Arkansas State
Idaho
Louisiana-Lafayette
Louisiana-Monroe
New Mexico State
Texas State

Does that really work? Not from my perspective. The Sun Belt would make it work if Idaho and N.M.S.U. brought more to the table. That neither would increase the strength of the league — they’d bring the Sun Belt down, in fact — would give Benson more than enough rationale for keeping the Vandals and Aggies out of consideration.

Each program’s Sun Belt hopes hinge on whether Benson has grander plans. The Vandals and Aggies are certainly in play if the Sun Belt expands all the way to 16 teams, with eight in the East division and eight out West. The East division is set: it would be composed of the majority of the current Sun Belt teams. Compiling a West division, however, would lead the Sun Belt into another examination of F.C.S. programs capable of taking a step up the ladder.

Here’s how it works: Benson would need to dig deep into the Texas-based F.C.S. schools. Add New Mexico State and Idaho to Georgia State, Texas State and the current Sun Belt programs — 12 teams. So the Sun Belt would need to find four more F.C.S. programs to create a 16-team league; obviously, the Sun Belt isn’t pulling a team out of Conference USA or another F.B.S. league.

It wouldn’t be pretty, but if Benson so chose, he could create a 16-team conference with an East and West division. Again, however, he’d need to really dig into the F.C.S. to find schools capable of making a move up to the F.B.S. level. Looking into Texas would give the Sun Belt a foothold in two prime football states, joining Florida. Here’s how a 16-team Sun Belt might look:

East
Arkansas State
Florida Atlantic
Georgia State
Liberty
Middle Tennessee State
South Alabama
Troy
Western Kentucky

West
Idaho
Lamar
Louisiana-Lafayette
Louisiana-Monroe
New Mexico State
Sam Houston State
Stephen F. Austin
Texas State

One reason why Benson and the Sun Belt might choose to be so proactive is to create a buffer in case of another round of expansion in the near future. Going up to 16 teams would leave the Sun Belt with a deeper roster of programs in case, say, the Big East adds Georgia State and Conference USA adds Florida Atlantic at some point over the next two years. If that does occur — if the league loses two teams — the Sun Belt could still have a workable 14-team slate at its disposal.

If this sounds ridiculous, it’s because, well, it is. But for Idaho and New Mexico State to survive, a hard-to-believe, impossibly-impossible scenario needs to occur. As the WAC disappears, the Vandals and Aggies are hoping that someone — anyone — tosses a life preserver. The Sun Belt might provide their only chance at survival, and a slim chance at that.

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Comments

  1. Robert says:

    I think James Madison has a better chance of moving up to BCS than Liberty, based on their recent stadium expansion and past statements from Harrisonburg.

  2. Dan says:

    If Idaho brings nothing to the MWC then San Jose brings negative, because Idaho > SJSU and hasn’t lost a football game to them in the last 4 years.

  3. Robert says:

    San Jose is in a major league market. Idaho is well, in Idaho. At the MWC/C-USA level market size is important.

  4. Steve says:

    Sorry, Dan– you’re out! San Jose State beat Hawaii{national TV broadcast on ESPN– do farmers get ESPN?)as well as Colorado State and Fresno State on the road. The Spartans also defeated New Mexico State and Navy. DUI’s single win in 2011(against San Jose State)is a mystery, wrapped in a riddle, inside an enigma.

  5. Steve says:

    SJSU is in a major market, a major market that could care less about football. Stanford had their best two years ever and no one came to the games. I watched a few San Jose State games last year and the stands were empty. I guess you can say they have a lot of TV sets but again no one is watching.

  6. Burnt Orange says:

    NMSU should just jump on the opportunity to go independent. If I were the AD at NMSU, I would pay whatever it takes to hire Willie Fritz away from Sam Houston State. ( Tulane really should have hired him ). The home and home deals with UNM and UTEP are great. Working off of that idea, schedule annual home and homes with Colo. St., Utah St., UTSA, and Texas State. Give a two for one to schedule annual games with BYU, and get a two for one to schedule an annual game with someone like Northern Arizona. You guarantee yourself four home games. Give Fritz 3 years and he will win 6 of those eight games. As for the other four games play anyone, any place. Schedule Texas, Bama, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Florida, etc.( they already play 1-2 games like this each year.) You have to think big to make big things happen. Bowden put Florida State on the map with aggressive scheduling which is actually easier for an independent to accomplish. I remember when Florida State was a wandering independent and when they finally
    got a winning coach, Bill Peterson, he literally left Florida State to
    take the job at Rice.

  7. Drew says:

    Its not that easy Burnt orange. They couldnt waste time playing NAU, they need to play high level teams to get money to finance everything. Its not like they can wake up and lets go independent. Do some more research on athletic depts

  8. Parker says:

    Hi Paul,

    While the Sun Belt presidents will make the decision, I’m sure Benson will have some input.

    And Benson is imtimately familiar with both programs from the WAC. In addition, Benson graduated from Boise St.

    I wonder which way Benson would rule if he had the power to decide . . .

  9. Burnt Orange says:

    @ Drew- well here is ten minutes worth of research – the NMSU football expenses were 5.5M in 2010. Texas paid Fla. Atlantic 900K in 2010 to appear in Austin. Ohio State and Wisconsin have paid at least that amount for out of conference games in recent years. The key is scheduling four big boys – that, coupled with pay days from BYU will get your budget balanced. The problem from a fan’s standpoint is getting home games. I think you need a minimum of four. Two are locked in evry other year with the UNM and UTEP rivalries. I thought it would be nice to schedule one “win”. What is your solution ? The Sunbelt ?

  10. John says:

    The MWC should add NMSU & Idaho, period. Denver University tried the Sun Belt for a few years and it was a traveling nightmare.

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