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Conference Expansion & UTEP: Doesn’t Matter in the Big LEast [OPINION]

The title of our discussion today, “Big East Expansion: So What?”

Over the last couple of months, there has been some concern over UTEP’s place in the conference realignment picture as the Big East raids Conference USA and the Mountain West Conference.

It’s safe to say that, while college football’s winds blow the piles of BCS and television cash to this conference and that school, the Miners must wait for the dust to settle. But as the Big East huffs and puffs to keep its own house from blowing down, it might not affect UTEP nearly as much as you’d think.

A small review is in order.

In an effort to stave off the schoolyard bully who was already making overtures to some of their teams, Conference USA and the Mountain West tried inviting the Big East to the bargaining table.

The idea was to combine forces with what would have been a five-team Big East on the verge of BCS irrelevance to create a national conference assured of a BCS berth and good TV money, because its schools would be everywhere.

But “on the verge” could also be read “cornered”. Never a good thing when dealing with any animal, person or conference facing its demise.

The Big East thought the idea of a national conference was so good, it procured the concept for itself. The conference went from coming after the likes of C-USA’s Houston and Central Florida to inviting Boise State and San Diego State of the MWC, too.

All this as SMU put on a red light and called itself Roxanne outside Big East headquarters.

It pays to advertise. SMU got an invitation, along with UH and UCF.

How did they get there? Case Keenum and coach Kevin Sumlin led Houston, having taken the program to a higher plane as they exit. But will there be buyer’s remorse for the Cougars’ new conference with no Case Keenum and Kevin Sumlin?

Meanwhile, SMU is dancing like an NFL rookie with his first exhibition game tackle after getting an invite to a BCS conference.

The Ponies had to flex the pile of alumni money behind them to make up for muscle they don’t have. But in the end, SMU is Big East-bound, and it can crow to its heart’s content that it has a program to match TCU’s. You can read all about it on page 12 of the Dallas Morning-News sports section, right above the ads for topless bars.

UCF is the most natural move of the bunch, finally joining South Florida in the same conference to kick off a directional school version of Florida State-Miami.

Inexplicably – and unsustainably — the Big East has also added Boise and SDSU.

It wanted to add Air Force and Navy, but we’re glad to see nine years of armed conflict overseas has taught somebody in our service academies a little about travel expense.

Air Force and Navy are staying put.

Here’s where the MWC and C-USA together with the Big East would have been a solid football solution: Boise State would have had Nevada and has Wyoming and Colorado State as nearby conference rivals in the MWC. San Diego State has UNLV and would have had Fresno State.

In the Big East, the Broncos and Aztecs will be each other’s closest rivalry.

Yes, jet travel makes the idea of a national football conference workable, but regional rivalry is what makes conferences viable, as UTEP has found out since being left behind by the Mountain West.

Now, as the Miners are being left behind by their closest rivals in Houston and Dallas, it appears that UTEP will get to renew many of its older and oldest conference rivalries.

The Mountain West-Conference USA merger is still on, and now appears to be an all-sports package.

Who doesn’t want to see UTEP-New Mexico go head-to-head in basketball again? Other than Steve Alford, that is.

The Miners and Nevada had developed a solid distaste for each other before UTEP left the Western Athletic Conference for C-USA. El Paso may get to see if there’s any spark left with the Wolfpack as early as next year.

Plus, Rice stays a part of the conference picture for Texas recruiting and as a rallying point for those El Pasoans and UTEP grads who moved east.

Speaking of: put me down for bringing UTSA into the conference if Larry Coker is able to get the Roadrunners’ football program moving. San Antonio may be home to more ex-El Pasoans than any other city in Texas; and both cities have that sweet-and-sour mix of being the same but different that could make this one of UTEP’s biggest rivalries. Someday.

As for those who would whine about the Miners not being proactive: where would you have them go, the Sun Belt? Back to the WhACk?

UTEP had no options. The program is too poor and geographically isolated to have called any shots in this round of conference shuffling. The Miners had to wait for the hand fate dealt them.

Turns out, it’s coming up aces.

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