Mountain West Staves Off AAC, Keeps Boise State, San Diego State, Air Force & Colorado State In Conference
David Becker/Getty Images. Pictured: A Mountain West Logo.
After weeks of discussions between the Mountain West’s top four schools and the American, the Mountain West managed to stave off the AAC and stay intact.
In the process, the Mountain West won the first major battle of Conference Realignment 2021 involving the Group of Five conferences.
Boise State, San Diego State, Air Force and Colorado State turned down opportunities to leave the MW for the AAC, which is desperately looking to replace Cincinnati, Houston and UCF, all moving on up to the Big 12.
Boise State and San Diego State had decided earlier it would remain in the Mountain West — although the schools are privately hoping instead for a future Power Five invitation, sources said.
On Friday morning, the Action Network confirmed a Yahoo report that Air Force and Colorado State will also stay in the Mountain West.
Air Force was “enamored” about the AAC because of the major markets of Tampa, Dallas and Philadelphia, a source said. Air Force also was intrigued by having AAC member Navy as a conference game, which would allow the Falcons the ability to add another nonconference opponent, a source said.
By playing Army and Navy annually, the Falcons are now limited to only two other nonconference games each season.
After the news broke Friday that there would not be any defections from the Mountain West, both leagues issued statements.
AAC commish Mike Aresco said his league “has not offered membership to any institution. Our process for considering potential members remains deliberate, strategic & focused on the continued proven success of our conference.”
Multiple Mountain West sources told the Action Network they had a different take on Aresco’s statement.
“Certainly the implication was there was a path to join the AAC [for Air Force, Boise State, Colorado State and San Diego State],” a source said. “There was never a question on our end if we wanted in [the AAC], we would be in.”
A couple of hours after Aresco’s statement, the Mountain West’s Board of Directors released a statement, triumphing “the trailblazing Western institutions … are announcing our collective commitment to membership in the Mountain West.
“The success and positive trajectories of our respective members have created opportunities for many of our universities, yet we collectively believe in the strength and shared spirit of the Mountain West and in the future possibilities for our conference.”
As a not-so-subtle parting shot at the AAC, which touts itself as a “Power 6” conference in a current system with only five power leagues, the MW concluded its statement calling itself “the nation’s top Non-Autonomy Five conference.”
The Mountain West also indicated “the best path forward” could consist of “aggressively pursuing strategic initiatives and amplifying our collective brand.”
In other words, the Mountain West stuck together and now could pick off some schools from other leagues.
Among the possibilities, sources said, could be gauging interest in some of the AAC members, including SMU, or non-football members such as Gonzaga (West Coast Athletic) or Wichita State (AAC).
“All three have been discussed, along with many others,” a Mountain West source said. “We’re still strategizing whether to add or not. This is an ongoing conversation.”
The only certainty about the Mountain West’s future membership is it will not include UTEP. The Miners, members of Conference USA, have longed to be in the MW for geographic reasons, but the Miners “have no chance” at the MWC, a source said.
While the 12-member Mountain West can patiently evaluate the college landscape before deciding what — if any — moves to make, the same can’t be said about the American.
After the exits of Cincinnati, UCF and Houston, the AAC will be down to eight members. Among its only options would be from Conference USA or the Sun Belt.
At the top of the list is UAB and, perhaps, Charlotte, with several other schools from both leagues in play once the AAC decides which path to proceed.
“We’re still determining who, and how many is still up in the air,” an AAC source said. “Anything from two to six schools seems possible.”
Other possible realignment possibilities could involve the Sun Belt looking to expand.
Commissioner Keith Gill recently said, “if we identify a school that adds value to the Sun Belt, we’ll certainly consider them for membership.”
Sources also told the Action Network to expect the Sun Belt to be aggressive in growing the current 10-school football league to 12 teams.
It hasn’t been determined if the Sun Belt will look to Conference USA, independent Liberty or FCS schools looking to move up to the FBS level among future membership options.
Last year, the Sun Belt was the only Group of Five league with two ranked teams in the top 15 of the final Associated Press poll.
Who will end up as the big winner in Conference Realignment 2021 at the Group of Five level? The Mountain West won the first major battle, but this war has just begun.