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Chuck Landon: Mountain West, C-USA in merger negotiations

Aug. 20, 2010 @ 12:53 AM

Imagine a conference stretching from coast to coast.

Imagine the largest league in NCAA history.

Imagine a mega-conference consisting of 20-some members.

Hard to imagine?

You betcha.

But as implausible, as far-fetched and as unwieldy as this conference with thyroid problems seems to be ... well, it actually isn't.

At least, Conference USA commissioner Britton Banowsky and Craig Thompson, commissioner of the Mountain West, don't think so.

That's why Banowsky and Thompson are having serious talks about a block-buster merger of their respective leagues.

Banowsky is believed to have contacted most of C-USA's 12 athletic directors Thursday to apprise them of the merger talks and to solicit their reactions.

Also, Tulsa Athletic Director Bubba Cunningham reportedly informed all his coaches about a potential C-USA and Mountain West merger.

An online publication dedicated to Brigham Young athletics -- the "Bleacher Report" -- also has a story about the merger on its website.

Does that mean it will happen?

No.

But it does mean the merger of arguably the two best non-BCS conferences in the country is being seriously discussed. Just ask TCU coach Gary Patterson, who offered this compellingly cryptic remark:

"All I can tell you is this," said Patterson. "Just wait and see in the next two weeks before you make any judgments and see what happens in the national landscape.

"Things that I know that maybe you don't know. That's all I'm going to tell you."

What that comment tells me is this merger actually could happen in one form or another.

The first question, of course, is just how many members would this far-flung league have?

The Rivals.com site in Houston tossed out a figure of 20. Whether that was merely for argument's sake or the site actually had some insight is unknown.

The only certainty at this point is the merger could produce a 23-team league. That's because Conference USA has 12 members and the Mountain West has 11 ... and counting. The MWC just added Fresno State and Nevada-Reno as members.

Then, there's the BYU situation.

The Cougars were threatening to leave the Mountain West, declare themselves as independents in football and let the rest of their sports compete in the WAC.

But, then, the Mountain West's Thompson trumped BYU's move by raiding the WAC for Fresno State and Nevada-Reno. That leaves the WAC with only six members, which might put the league out of business.

It also leaves no place for Brigham Young's other sports to go. So, the Cougars might have to stay put in the Mountain West. If so, the Mountain West roster consists of Air Force, BYU, Colorado State, New Mexico, San Diego State, TCU, UNLV, Wyoming, Boise State, Nevada-Reno and Fresno State.

If the target membership number for the potential merger is indeed 20, the first two schools that might not make the cut are UAB and Tulane. But after that? Finding the third odd-man out is a little tricky.

There will be plenty of time to sort out those details, however, if the merger does happen. Which leads to the question: Should it happen?

I believe so.

A conference of this size and scope would almost certainly lead to an automatic BCS berth. And nothing in the world of major college football is more significant than that. It also probably would lead to the conference having its own television network.

Both are extremely lucrative.

All in all, I like how Banowsky and Thompson are thinking outside the box. Maybe it will happen. Maybe it won't.

I hope for the former.

Chuck Landon is a columnist for The Herald-Dispatch. Call him at 304-526-2827. E-mail him at clandon@herald-dispatch.com.

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