LARAMIE – Tom Burman summed up the latest round of conference realignment and its potential impact on the Mountain West before the storm arrived on the Front Range.
The tempest began when Texas and Oklahoma decided to leave the Big 12 for the SEC. The Big 12 responded by adding independent BYU, as well as Central Florida, Cincinnati and Houston from the American Athletic Conference.
Burman knew Mike Aresco, the AAC’s vociferous commissioner, would be on the phone with MWC schools in a desperate attempt to emerge with the strongest remaining Group of 5 conference.
Wyoming’s athletic director was cautiously optimistic the current MWC membership would remain intact.
“I clearly don’t see any value for a Mountain West team to play in that league as we go forward, but that’s someone else’s decision to make,” Burman said during an interview with the Star-Tribune last month. “So I don’t think there will be a trickle-down effect, but this business is weird and sometimes illogical.”
The AAC courted Boise State and San Diego State — two schools that briefly joined the Big East as football-only members in 2011 during a chaotic round of realignment — but the Broncos and Aztecs announced Friday they were staying in the MWC.
“While our on-field successes and positive trajectory of the University have created opportunities for us, we remain committed to the Mountain West.,” Boise State athletics director Jeramiah Dickey said in a statement. “We will continue to work closely with our fellow members to strengthen and enhance the league as the landscape of intercollegiate athletics continues to evolve.”
Boise State and SDSU were reportedly not interested in traveling all of their sports teams to the East Coast or paying an additional exit fee in the event that the Big 12 comes calling down the road.
Air Force and Colorado State were reportedly on the verge of leaving for the AAC, which currently has a slightly more lucrative television contract ($6 million annually per school) than the MWC ($5 million).
But the Falcons and Rams also decided to stay put in the conference they helped form.
In 1999, Air Force, CSU, BYU, Utah and UW broke away from the unwieldy 16-team WAC. New Mexico, SDSU and UNLV were then invited to join the MWC.
Craig Thompson, the MWC commissioner since the inception of the conference, said watching the Cowboys’ 24-22 win at UConn nearly 2,000 miles away from Laramie kept the situation in perspective while the latest realignment rumors were swirling.
“I was questioning the logic, reasoning, (and) purpose,” Thompson told the Athletic. “I know what I know, others know what they know. When you compare revenue and television packages and geography and history … you bring in all the factors, I was trying to understand giving up things for what purpose?”
UW already lost two annual rivalry games when Utah left for the Pac-12 and BYU went independent a decade ago.
Saying goodbye to the Falcons and Rams would have been a crushing blow.
Entering Saturday’s game at Falcon Stadium (5 p.m., CBS Sports Network), Air Force leads the tightly contested series with UW 29-26-3.
The Pokes have been playing Border War rival CSU since 1899 and the two programs have met every season since 1946. The Rams lead the all-time series 59-48-5, but UW has a 28-24 edge since the teams started playing for the Bronze Boot traveling trophy in 1968.
“Today we are announcing our collective commitment to membership in the Mountain West,” the conference board of directors said in a statement Friday. “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.
“Close collaboration will continue as we identify the best path forward for the Mountain West within the evolving landscape of intercollegiate athletics. That will include aggressively pursuing strategic initiatives and amplifying our collective brand.”
The MWC has avoided the AAC sack attempt and positioned itself as one of the top six FBS conferences, which could pay off in a big way if the proposed 12-team College Football Playoff expansion is approved.
Thompson worked on the format, which would include automatic bids for the six highest-ranked conference champions, with SEC commissioner Greg Sankey, Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby and Notre Dame athletic director Swarbrick.
There has been some push back to the plan with hurt feelings lingering in the Big 12 with the Longhorns and Sooners preparing to pack their bags. The new commissioners of the ACC, Big Ten and Pac-12 also formed an alliance to check the SEC’s latest power grab.
Burman, a member of the CFP selection committee, is in favor of the proposed 12-team model speaking as UW’s athletics director.
Even if the Cowboys won the MWC with a 13-0 overall record this season, there is little chance they would be selected for the CFP over one- or even two-loss champions from the Power 5 conferences.
“I think the current system of four teams does not provide adequate access for the number of quality programs out there,” Burman said. “I think it will actually help broaden the number of quality programs because now more teams can have access. If you’re a four- and five-star (recruit) right now, you go to Alabama, Ohio State, Clemson, because that’s the only way you can get in. If now we can get it broader and maybe Michigan and Georgia and Florida have a real chance, that would help.
“Then I think the Group of 5 should always have access. I think they should get automatic selection with the best conference champion getting in. If there’s another team deserving, great, but at least one should get in.”
Follow UW beat writer Ryan Thorburn on Twitter @By_RyanThorburn