POSTED: Friday, October 14, 2011 - 5:26pm
UPDATED: Friday, October 14, 2011 - 5:41pm
Conference realignment is coming to college sports and this time UTEP is affected. Conference USA will merge with the Mountain West creating a 22 team conference stretching across 16 states. Officials viewed the merger as a pre-emptive strike since the Big East is also making moves.
Big East officials have talked with Boise St., Air Force, Navy and Central Florida. Talks have also involved adding both Houston and SMU to the Big East. If those six defect, it would leave UTEP in a 16 team league and most likely in the western division of the new league with former WAC schools like New Mexico and Wyoming.
League officials did not give a time table as to when the merger would take place or what the new league would be called.
"The role of a conference is to provide its members with the best possible environment in which to conduct their intercollegiate athletics programs," said Mountain West Commissioner Craig Thompson. "Rather than await changes in membership due to realignment, it became clear the best way to serve our institutions was to pursue an original concept. The Mountain West and C-USA share a number of similarities, and the creative merger of our football assets firmly positions our respective members for the future."
"The potential of this association is very exciting," Conference USA Commissioner Britton Banowsky said. "By taking an innovative approach, we feel we can offer tremendous opportunities for exposure and stability without breaking up the regional rivalries that truly make up the college football tradition."
UNLV President and Mountain West Board of Directors Chair Neal Smatresk said, "In an era of uncertainty in intercollegiate athletics, this collaborative partnership with C-USA lends stability and credibility to our collective football enterprise. We are excited about the prospect of having teams in five time zones and the many possibilities created by this extremely bold and proactive step."
Conference USA Board of Directors Chair and Tulane president Scott Cowen said, "We are very pleased to be moving forward with the Mountain West Conference on this high potential, unique partnership. Together, we will better position our conferences and member universities for the future with its appeal and its reach across the United States."
The current 22 members are located in 16 different states, offering a prospective 16-hour window for competition. Conference USA has existing television partnerships with Fox Sports and CBS Sports, as well as ESPN for its championship game. The Mountain West has partnerships with CBS Sports and Comcast/NBC Universal.
The two conferences will merge into a separate football-only entity without affecting their status within the NCAA structure.