Thursday, September 13, 2012

Returning to the Big West likely not an option

One league I had hoped to see see New Mexico State find its way into was the Big West.

There is familiarity there, it's a solid hoops league, or at least on par with what the WAC has become in the last three years, and it makes just as much sense from a travel standpoint than what NMSU has since joining the WAC since the Big West would need one more school for an even number.

Big West commissioner Dennis Farrell has been the league's commish for the past 21 years and involved with the league for 32 years. I spoke with Farrell last week, and although he refrained from answering direct questions about NMSU as a potential member, it became apparent, at least to me, that if the Big West were to move from 11 to 12 teams, New Mexico State is far from an ideal candidate.

The WAC has taken Big West schools in the past and the Big West was forced to survive. It's ironic the roles have reversed.

"Conferences have two reasons to expand," Farrell said. "One is for survival and the other is for opportunity. In the past, the Big West has had to expand for survival. Fortunately, we are in a situation right now where we are able to expand for opportunities that will make us better. I don't tempt fate in that regard. All three additions we have made in the last 18 months, we haven't made rash decisions."

The main reason is football. The Big West doesn't play football, of course, but Farrell told me football still had to be considered when making additions to his league.

Just as ironically, it was football that got NMSU into the Big West.

"When they joined in the early 80s, the thing that appealed to them was a Division I-A at the time football conference and they were in the MIssouri Valley at the time. Back in the early 2000s when we were getting out of the football business, we told the remaining football schools in the conference they were welcome to stay but it would ultimately be phased out. North Texas and New Mexico State were moving their programs to the Sun Belt at the time and Boise was leaving for the WAC. Idaho and Utah State were the  last two and they left in 2004 for the WAC."

Consider the football programs of the three schools the Big West has added in the past 18 months: Hawaii, Boise State and San Diego State. All three schools had a solution for their football programs — Hawaii to Mountain West and Boise State and San Diego State in the Mountain West this year followed by membership to the Big East.

"I don't think we are motivated to continuing to expand our footprint," Farrell said. "We are more inclined to look at more schools within the footprint that we now have, from Honalulu to Boise. The No. 1 thing is the stability of our conference. I feel like we are one of the more stable conferences out there right now."

Following Pacific's departure to the West Coast Conference, the Big West will have 11 members in two years, not an ideal number for travel partners, but it didn't seem to be a huge concern for Farrell.

"We are open to opportunities as they present themselves but we are not in a rush to get to any particular number. We were prepared to go to 11 before Pacific left. We know there will be some scheduling challenges in men's and women's basketball and volleyball but it won't be a driving force on us to make a decision on future expansion. We are only interested if we feel that an institution feels like it's on an upward trajectory. Hawaii, San Diego State and Boise State were all valuable assets as we deal with new media rights negotiations."

Farrell said the Big West is in the final stages for regional tier 2 rights and just entering negotiations for the tier 1 national rights with ESPN, which he says adding the three schools should help make the league more attractive. There is also hope that the Big West can latch on with a new Time Warner regional package and a connection with Fox.

I asked Farrell about a possible merger with the Mountain West in the future:

"I don't really see what value would be of that. The NCAA only gives an automatic bid to one conference," he said.

Boise State, San Diego State and the Big East are helping ease the move by chipping in with travel costs as they join the league. Outside of Hawaii and Boise State, if Farrell says the league isn't interested in expanding its future footprint, it doesn't look like a good fit for New Mexico State in the future.

At least for now, but we all know how fast things have been changing.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Don't think the Big West was ever an option. The best (though far from preferred) option seems to be somehow salvaging the WAC for olympic sports, with football only in the Sun Belt. Question is, will either or both happen. The Sun Belt will require a buy in and a 'new WAC' will mean taking a chance on several schools not deemed desireable by most.