UTEP Gaining Little Traction in G5 Conference Realignment Rumors
Over the last 10 days, the rumor mill has heated up regarding the future of many Group of 5 conferences. National writers like Dennis Dodd from CBS Sports, Chris Vannini from The Athletic, and Yahoo's Pete Thamel have all written about the subject. All of their stories have one common denominator: the UTEP Miners are not in the discussion at the moment.
Nobody should be surprised that this is the case. The UTEP football team is currently 2-1 this season, but they are currently in a bye week after losing 54-13 to Boise State from the Mountain West. Head coach Dana Dimel needs a winning season and a trip to a bowl game in order to start resurrecting the football program. The last time the Miners went bowling was 2014 and nobody seems to remember or care about that game or team. A winning football program is also one of the biggest factors for schools looking to change conferences. Of all the sports in college athletics, nothing drives an athletic department's budget like a winning college football program. That is why schools like BYU, Houston, Cincinnati, Central Florida, and Boise State are all sought after by G5 conferences. All of these universities realize that a consistent winner in football is the major chip to ante up in any poker game that involves realignment.
When you take a deeper dive into UTEP Athletics, the school's best current programs are women's volleyball and track and field. Sadly, that will not get the attention of Group of 5 conferences like the Mountain West or American Athletic. Football is four years into the Dimel rebuild, while men's basketball is entering the first season under new head coach Joe Golding. Women's basketball has not been to the postseason since Keitha Adams was head coach.
UTEP Postseason Trips in the last 20 years:
Football: 2014, 2010, 2005, and 2004
Men's Basketball: 2015 (NIT), 2011 (NIT), 2010 (NCAA), 2006 (NIT), 2005 (NCAA), and 2004 (NCAA)
Women's Basketball: 2016 (NIT), 2014 (NIT), 2012 (NCAA), 2008 (NCAA)
Track and Field: 2019, 2018, 2017, 2016, 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007, 2006, 2005, 2004, 2003, 2002, 2001
If both Dodd and Vannini are correct and the American Athletic Conference are targeting the Mountain West members like Boise State, San Diego State, Colorado State, and Air Force as potential replacement candidates, then the MWC would either get absorbed by the remaining G5 leagues or quickly look to restock. The remaining conference would consist of: New Mexico, Utah State, Wyoming, Nevada, Fresno State, San Jose State, Hawaii, and UNLV. To UTEP fans, that list is a mix of WAC schools before the 1998 split and WAC schools after the formation of the Mountain West. That would still be better than staying in C-USA.
Another thing to consider, as Dodd pointed out in his story is that the MWC might look at North Texas and Tulsa before they consider UTEP. Vannini mentioned the Sun Belt as a possible candidate for expansion, and that league has become a better football conference than C-USA. However, Miners fans would not warm up to Sun Belt opponents like Texas State, Louisiana, or Coastal Carolina any more than they would their current C-USA foes. So, it seems like it is the Mountain West or bust at this point, and here is hoping that Jim Senter and Dr. Heather Wilson are working hard to bring UTEP back to their WAC roots.