Mountain West: We're done expanding
The Mountain West Conference's dream of joining the BCS seemed to finally be within reach.
Two teams had already left the Big 12, five more seemed headed out the door and the Mountain West was ready to pick up the scraps, add the high-profile schools needed to earn an automatic bid from the BCS.
Then Texas turned down the Pac-10 and the rest of the Big 12 followed.
Now, the Mountain West is done with the stomach-twisting nervousness of conference expansion.
With Boise State onboard and Utah officially on its way west to the Pac-10, the conference will compete as a nine-team league for the forseeable future.
If the Mountain West is going to join the BCS bonanza, it will have to earn it by winning on the football field - just the way it has in the past.
"It's a similar to an analogy to a football game: It's third-and-1 and you're going to pick it up, then you fumble the ball and someone returns it 85 yards the other way for a touchdown," Mountain West commissioner Craig Thompson said Thursday. "You regroup and figure, now what do we do?"
The decision is to do nothing.
Swapping Boise State and Utah was essentially a wash. The Mountain West loses a big chunk of the Salt Lake City market with the loss of the Utes - though there are still BYU fans and a few from Boise State mixed in - but gains a Broncos program that has won the Fiesta Bowl twice in the past four years.
There were chances to add more. Thompson said amid the conference-swapping chaos of the past few weeks, he received eight or 10 inquiries from schools hoping to join the Mountain West.
While they appreciated the interest, Mountain West officials were looking for bigger names to go across the marquee, namely Big 12 castoffs.
That conference appeared to be doomed after Nebraska left for the Big Ten and Colorado bolted for the Pac-10. Five other schools from the Big 12 South, led by Texas, were receiving overtures from the Pac-10 and seemed ready to go.
The beneficiary of this program power grab would likely have been the Mountain West, which was watching and waiting, apparently ready to pounce on schools such as Kansas, Kansas State and Missouri. Add those nationally known programs to the likes of BYU, Boise State and TCU, well, the BCS would have to take a look.
A U-turn by the Longhorns ended those hopes.
Enticed by an enhanced TV package, Texas opted to stay and the four others followed, saving the Big 12 and keeping a mountain of cash from awaiting the Mountain West in the BCS.
With the BCS out of reach and the star power no longer available, the Mountain West decided nine was fine and it wasn't worth the hassle of rejiggering the football schedules just to become bigger.
"There are wonderful institutions in the western part of the United States, but at this juncture we're just going to circle the wagons and stay with the current makeup," Thompson said.
Of course, the decision could be out of the conference's hands.
The Big 12, after losing Colorado and Nebraska, is down to 10 teams, leaving it two short of being able to host a lucrative conference football championship. The Big Ten has now bumped up to 12 teams and could be looking for more to become a 16-team mega-conference. And Pac-10 commissioner Larry Scott has been aggressive in adding luster to his conference, so another defection isn't out of the question.
Thompson, for now, isn't worried.
"I expect it's the last moves based on comments of (the other commissioners)," he said. "I don't know where institutions in our league would go other than those three conferences. Geographically, I'm not sure where they would go."
Thompson said the conference is sorting through its current TV package to see how switching schools might affect distribution.