Can UTEP Afford To Leave C-USA For The Mountain West?
There is a lot of talk that UTEP could be poised to join the Mountain West Conference in the coming weeks. ESPN.com's Andy Katz reported that UTEP is very interested in leaving C-USA for the MWC. There is no denying that C-USA is a shell of the conference it once was when the Miners joined in 2005. In the next two years, SMU, Houston, East Carolina, Central Florida, Memphis, and Tulane will be leaving C-USA and moving to the Big East Conference. The replacement schools include North Texas, UT San Antonio, Florida International, Louisiana Tech, Middle Tennessee State, Florida Atlantic, UNC Charlotte, and Old Dominion. Miner fans are not exactly thrilled with the conference's new look.
The big question is how much would it cost UTEP to leave C-USA and join the MWC? That dollar figure depends on the amount of television revenue that would be lost should the Miners depart. For example, if C-USA would lose $6.5 million in television revenue by UTEP leaving the conference, the school would need to pay that dollar amount. Then, they would also need to pay an entree fee in order to get into the MWC, although the conference could waive that fee.
In order for UTEP to change leagues, the MWC would have to invite them to join. Almost 15 years ago, the Miners were left out when eight teams from the WAC broke apart to form the Mountain West. In recent years, the MWC has taken a major hit when they lost TCU, BYU, and Utah. Then, San Diego State and Boise State announced they were leaving to join the Big East. Last week, Boise State changed their mind (thanks to a larger television split) and elected to stay in the Mountain West. San Diego State is also reconsidering their decision and might do the same. That could have a major impact on whether or not the Miners get the invite to move west. If the Aztecs return to the MWC, the league would be a 12-team football conference and could play a championship game. If San Diego State stays in the Big East, then UTEP could emerge as the favorite for the 12th team.
One big question remains: can UTEP afford to pay the exit and possible entry fee to change conferences? It is doubtful that the university has the $6 - $7 million to make the move, but they could ask their biggest donors to help with covering the fee. Also, UTEP could see a benefit from conference-shared revenues, increased attendance at home games, and reduced travel expenditures to justify the switch to the MWC.