POSTED: 1:30 a.m. HST, Jan 23, 2011
When word seeped out this summer that Brigham Young University was close to following Utah out the door of the Mountain West Conference, league representatives hurriedly jumped on a flight to shore up their imperiled conference.
The destination of commissioner Craig Thompson and Lt. Gen. Mike Gould, Air Force Superintendent and chair of the MWC Board of Directors, that August night was the Philadelphia headquarters of cable giant Comcast.
What their TV partner told them led to the conference announcing less than 24 hours later the raiding of Fresno State and Nevada from the WAC.
As the MWC directors meet tomorrow in Las Vegas, what they hear from Comcast will likely go a long way toward whether they follow up the addition of Hawaii with expansion to 12 members or sit tight at 10 for the 2012 season.
It is the first meeting since the announced football-only addition of UH on Dec. 10, and people in and around the tight-lipped MWC say it is probably a "50-50" proposition whether any additional schools are added for the league's new-look 2012 season.
That's the year by which BYU, Utah and Texas Christian will all be gone and UH, Boise State, Fresno State and Nevada will be on-board.
Some members of the MWC, including Nevada-Las Vegas, have told the Star-Advertiser they favor a 12-team conference while others in the traditionally conservative league, including Boise State, are said to lean to remaining at 10.
But the majority appear to be like San Diego State president Stephen Weber, who told the Star-Advertiser in an e-mail, "I will wait on (a decision) until I have spoken with other conference presidents."
UH, which is taking part in its first MWC directors meeting, will wait until the meeting, "so that there can be fair and thorough discussion among the MWC attendees," according to a UH spokeswoman.
Vice president Rockne Freitas is scheduled to represent UH president M.R.C. Greenwood, who will be in Honolulu for meetings with the state legislature this week, school officials said.
What all the members will be looking for is prospective additions that bring, in Thompson's words, "added value" to the league.
The current members receive approximately $1.4 million each from the MWC's TV deal with Comcast and CBS College Sports (CCS) compared with the $400,000 each WAC member receives from its ESPN deal.
The MWC is not likely to add members that would dilute their take. Said one, "it makes no sense to bring in two new members if we're now going to get smaller pieces of the same pie. To add members you want them to grow the pie, not shrink it (to $1 million each)."
When UH was added as a football-only member it was with the expectation that the Warriors would bring value to future contract negotiations, UNLV president Neal Smatresk said.
With the change in membership, Comcast has the option of renegotiating or even exiting the contract in 2012. And Thompson says, "We're talking with our TV partners to determine what all this means."
Comcast's takeover of NBC Universal was approved by the U.S. Department of Justice this past week, opening the way for what some speculate will be increased competition with ESPN.
Meanwhile Conference USA, which had been receiving $11.3 million per year from ESPN and CCS, has gotten a new $14 million deal with Fox and CCS, a development not missed in MWC circles.
Against that backdrop, Houston, Southern Methodist, Texas-El Paso, Utah State and San Jose State have been mentioned as possibilities should the MWC expand.
"If Houston showed interest, they (the MWC) would take 'em in a minute," said an industry figure. "Utah State and San Jose State? I don't know how much value they bring."
Another dynamic is the decision makers. Since the MWC was formed in 1998, all the presidents except SDSU's Weber have changed, as have the athletic directors. Throw in four new schools, and it is anybody's guess what the MWC will — or will not do — this week.