What is Next For UTEP Athletics After C-USA Exodus
With the official news today that UTSA, North Texas, Rice, UAB, Charlotte, and FAU will all leave Conference USA for the American Athletic Conference beginning in the 2023-24 athletic season, what does that do to UTEP? The Miners suddenly find themselves in an eight-member C-USA, but that number could change if the Sun Belt decides to expand by two or four schools. Southern Miss could be on their way to the Sun Belt regardless, and the Golden Eagles would then take either Western Kentucky with them to the SBC in one scenario or Marshall and Old Dominion in another. That means C-USA would be left with either seven or, at worst, five schools once the smoke clears. Where does that leave the Miners? Here are the best scenarios we know at this point.
1. UTEP remains in Conference USA. Last I checked, UTEP was still in this league, although fans wonder if C-USA will be able to get off of life support. If they can attract James Madison (who the Sun Belt is also after) and either Liberty and/or NMSU, then the league can at worst stay at eight and possibly grow to 10 or 11. From a geographic standpoint, the new C-USA is a disaster for UTEP, since the closest school to El Paso is LA Tech (nearly 900 miles away). Travel costs will be a mess, plus the Miners will play all road games in the Central and Eastern time zones, which they do anyway.
2. UTEP finally gets their wish and goes into the Mountain West Conference. This is such a long shot, but it still needs to be mentioned. Fans want the MWC and so does UTEP. However, the feeling is not mutual at the moment. The best chance the Miners have to reunite with some of their old WAC opponents is to keep winning in football and start winning in basketball. That way, when the league decides to expand or replace schools like Boise State and San Diego State if they leave for bigger and better leagues, then UTEP will be a prime candidate. There is also a remote possibility that SMU is so upset with North Texas will be moving to the same conference that they will want out of the AAC and ask the Mountain West about a possible move. In that case, UTEP could come in as a travel partner. However, that is not currently on the table. It should be mentioned that in 1999, the WAC wanted to add North Texas but SMU blocked the move. R. Gerald Turner was the President of SMU back then and he still holds that title today. Whether or not he feels the same way about the Mean Green remains to be seen.
3. UTEP goes independent in football. To me, this scenario is only possible under two circumstances. Either C-USA crumbles after the Sun Belt grows by adding Marshall, ODU, and Southern Miss. Or, C-USA kicks UTEP out of the conference because El Paso is too far away from every other member. I do not have a copy of UTEP's C-USA membership agreement from 2005, but it probably has some language as to whether or not the league could do that. Those two scenarios are the only way I see UTEP going independent in football. Look at NMSU, who was booted from the Sun Belt and took the Indy route. They still have not yet joined a conference for football, even though C-USA could be a possibility. If the Miners need a conference for basketball and the other sports, a reunion with the WAC could be a possibility.
If I had to predict what will happen, I think UTEP stays afloat in whatever is left of Conference USA. As long as the Miners keep winning in football and Joe Golding re-energizes the basketball program, fans will be back supporting the teams. That is the biggest key to UTEP regaining their status as a Division 1 athletic department that will attract other conferences so the next time there is realignment, the Miners will not be left on the outside looking in.