UTEP Might Not Be Able to Leave Conference USA after Big 12 Expansion
Do you remember the scene from Superman II when General Zod, Ursa, and Non were banished by Jor-El to the prison known as the Phantom Zone? That is what it has felt like the last few years for UTEP fans as they watch their team compete in Conference USA, a league that has become the Phantom Zone for Division 1 athletics.
In the last few days, there have been plenty of stories written about the expansion of the Big 12 conference, and how plenty of mid major schools are jockeying for position to get into the Power 5 league. Miner fans are hoping that the next wave of reshuffling could impact their departure from C-USA. However, if the Big 12 raids the American Athletic Conference, UTEP could be stuck in C-USA for the foreseeable future.
At this point, Big 12 expansion is not a question of 'if' but rather 'when' and 'how many'? The conference could add as few as two schools or as many as four by the 2017 football season. Despite Boise State and Colorado State from the Mountain West Conference being mentioned as potential Big 12 expansion teams, these schools do not appear to improve the Power 5 league like Cincinnati, BYU, Memphis, Connecticut, and Houston could. The four universities from the AAC offer larger television markets and their football and men's basketball programs have been more successful in recent years than Boise State and Colorado State. The only logical way to get UTEP out of C-USA and into the MWC would be as a replacement for Colorado State or Boise State. Months ago, MWC Presidents discussed expansion and listed UTEP and Rice as two schools they were considering. However, this discussion was tabled after the MWC decided they did not want to divide up their current TV revenue dollars by adding another school to their membership.
If the AAC loses two or more schools to the Big 12, they will obviously be looking to replace them with up and coming programs. C-USA offers plenty to choose from, but sadly Western Kentucky, Marshall, Middle Tennessee, and even Georgia Southern from the Sun Belt could be in better position than UTEP to fill the void left by the departing schools. El Paso is not an easy place to travel to from the east coast. Plus, the Miners have not achieved enough recent success in football and men's basketball to warrant serious consideration to the AAC. C-USA is not the ideal situation for UTEP or their fans, but it could be the only option for the immediate future.