Perhaps the final blow to the relevance of the Big East as a football conference was dealt on Wednesday when the San Diego State Aztecs reached an agreement to head back to the Mountain West Conference in all sports, instead of joining the Big East in just football, according to ESPN.com. The move was made, of course, before any Aztec football was played in the Big East in the first place.
San Diego State had been scheduled to join their new conference, along with Boise State, on July 1. At the same time, the rest of its sports teams were scheduled to join the Big West.
However, following the departures of Rutgers, then Louisville, and finally the seven basketball-only members of the conference, Boise State made the decision to pay a $5 million exit fee to stay home in the Mountain West.
There were a few reasons why San Diego State had been planning on making the move, along with Boise. First and foremost, of course, is money. However, the second reason goes hand-in-hand with what was supposed to be a dramatic increase in income. As the two crown jewels of the Mountain west over the previous decade, neither of the two teams ever had a prayer at the massive payouts BCS bowl games provide unless they went undefeated, an impossible task when trying to do so annually.
The Big East had (operative word being ‘had’) an automatic qualifying bid to a BCS bowl game. Thus, if either Boise State or San Diego State won the conference title, they would be guaranteed a spot in either the Orange, Sugar or Fiesta Bowl.
However, with the introduction of the playoffs in 2014, the Big East will be relegated to the ‘Group of Five’ — comprised of the smaller football conferences outside of the Big Ten, Pac-12, SEC, ACC and Big 12.
The highest-ranked team in the Group of Five is automatically granted a BCS berth. Thus, if San Diego State wins the Mountain West and is ranked higher than a ‘Group of Five’ team (as of writing, the smaller conferences — Big East, Mountain West, Conference USA, Sun Belt and the MAC) the Aztecs are guaranteed a BCS bowl berth.
Thus, with the BCS guarantee no longer on the table, there was no reason to cut ties with regional rivalries. There was no reason to force fans to travel to New York from California to take in a football game against the likes of UConn.
Further, after the ‘Catholic 7’, the aforementioned seven basketball-only schools, decided the break away, the estimated value of the league was diminished by a substantial 15- to 20-percent.
Finally, SDSU’s contract with the Big East included a clause stating the Aztecs did not have to remain in the league, and did not have to pay any exit fee, if no teams in the league were located west of the Rocky Mountains. Boise State’s exit made such a scenario a reality.
The Mountain West will be adding San Jose State and Utah State, two teams that finished with double-digit wins, next season. The return of SDSU and Boise along with the two additions does far more than simply make the MWC a legit football power, but it brings the conference count up to 12 schools. A lucrative conference championship game is now possible, and it could be held in a neutral city such as Denver or Las Vegas. The cultural significant has not been lost on any of the teams involved.
With the decision on the part of San Diego, the makeup of the Mountain West is as follows: Air Force, Boise State, Colorado State, Fresno State, Hawaii, Nevada, New Mexico, San Diego State, San Jose State, UNLV, Utah State and Wyoming.