Rumor Mill: Is the Mountain West the new ‘it’ conference of college football?

Boise State Broncos wide receiver Chris Potter (3) scores a touch down during the first half of the game against the Colorado State Rams at Bronco Stadium. (Brian Losness-US PRESSWIRE)

The Mountain West Conference has been hated on for years by various schools not only threatening, but actually physically leaving the conference for seemingly greener pastures.

After spending the better part of a decade being shut out of the most elite and most lucrative bowls, the BCS at-large bowls, Boise State bolted out of frustration for any automatic-qualifying conference that would take them. The Big East, not close to Idaho but desperate for schools following the departures of Syracuse and Pitt to the ACC, accepted both the Cowboys and San Diego State — again, about as far west as east can be.

[Rumor Mill: Does Jon Gruden have a contract offer?]

In the past year, the Big East has had six schools — West Virginia, TCU, Pittsburgh, Syracuse, Notre Dame and now likely Rutgers — leave or announce they were leaving the league, with a seventh school expected to go to the ACC to replace Maryland.

Brigham Young, on the other hand, bolted for some alone time. The Cougars athletic department came to a contractual agreement to have their games televised by ESPN for the next eight years and simply remained a conference independent.

Now, however, with the way the new playoff system has been planned out, there might be more benefit to retreating back to the MWC than there is in going about solo, or trying to clownishly maintain allegiance with a conference far out of one’s region.

Each of the three school have had conversations with MWC membership about the possibility of returning to the league, sources told ESPN.

BYU’s deal with ESPN is worth nearly $4 million a year through 2018, with an option for 2019, sources said; but rejoining the MWC would make it easier for the Cougars to earn an invite to a BCS bowl, which would easily prove more lucrative than their current deal. ESPN has not yet announced whether or not, or under what terms, BYU might be released from its contractual obligations.

The BCS commissioners decided, in Denver a week ago, to award an automatic access bowl berth to the highest-rated champion of the “Group of Five” conferences (the conferences not named SEC, Big Ten, Big 12, ACC and Pac-12). Thus, in an instant, the Mountain West was placed on equal footing with the Big East in terms of postseason access starting in 2014.

Losing yet another team in Rutgers, this time to the Big Ten, is not a good start for two teams in Boise and SDSU that are looking to increase strength of schedule respectability.

Not to mention, yet again, the all-powerful TV dollars.

With so many exits from the Big East, the conference is no longer a football power, and thus, should very solid programs in Boise and SDSU decide to return to the Mountain West, in all likelihood their TV money might just end up being the same.

Meanwhile, the Mountain West’s membership next season will consist of 10 football programs: Air Force, Colorado State, Fresno State, Hawaii, Nevada, New Mexico, San Jose State, UNLV, Utah State and Wyoming.

MWC commission Craig Thompson added Utah State and San Jose State to replace Boise State and San Diego State, and thus far both of those schools have not only fielded very competitive football teams, but have also brought in two more, fairly large, viewership markets.

Further, Thompson insisted he was going to be expand past 10 schools on the off chance his two football crown jewels had a change of heart.

“Our board has determined that we’re staying at 10 football-playing institutions,” Thompson said in July. “We’re going to line up with that formation, but at the same time we’ll keep our eyes on the landscape and if there’s a need to change, we’ll do that.”

Mr. Thompson is looking smarter than anyone right now: A potentially guaranteed BCS bowl birth for his league’s best school and the increased revenue that comes from it.

He’ll take it, just as he will most assuredly take back Boise State, San Diego State and BYU, should any or all of the three get out of their current contracts.

Quotes from ESPN were used in this report

Latest from the Rumor Mill >> Is Oregon’s Chip Kelly headed to the Eagles?