Little Chance Mountain West Expands to 16 Teams
In recent days, there have been published reports suggesting that the Mountain West Conference could be considering expanding to 16 teams. Ironically, outgoing New Mexico State Chancellor Gary Carruthers fueled the speculation when he mentioned the rumor during the WAC Basketball Tournament.
One rumor was the Mountain West would become a 16-member conference with two-8 member divisions. NMSU could come into play as a new member, along with UTEP.
The fact that Dr. Carruthers mentioned NMSU and UTEP in the expansion rumor has El Pasoans buzzing over the possibility that the Miners may be able to finally get out of Conference USA. Despite the excitement surrounding the conference change, I do not see this scenario taking place any time soon.
First, the MWC originally formed in 1998 because the old Western Athletic Conference had grown from 10 member schools to 16, and half of the league was upset about splitting up the television revenue. Currently the MWC has 12 football teams and 11 basketball teams. If they chose to expand to 16 schools, it would go against the very reason they broke apart from the WAC to begin with. Six original schools remain in the league and I doubt that they would want to split up their television deal with another five universities.
Second, UTEP has not pursued the move out of Conference USA despite rumored interest in the Miners from the Mountain West. Former UTEP men's basketball head coach Tim Floyd publicly campaigned for UTEP to make the move to the MWC, but sources have told 600 ESPN El Paso that the school's administration have preferred to stay in Conference USA with Rice and the other Texas schools.
I think the most likely scenario is that the Mountain West adds one school for basketball and Gonzaga and BYU have been the most popular names in the discussion. New UTEP Director of Athletics Jim Senter has said the Miners must be more successful in football and basketball in order to be a viable candidate for a conference move. With new head coaches Dana Dimel and Rodney Terry now in place, UTEP has everything they need in order to rebuild their money sports and become relevant again.