In college football's postseason, the Mountain West Conference is messed up and getting messed over, and while the BCS is the trigger point for that mess, there are other contributing factors.
Bad news is, those contributions likely will continue for years to come. Bowl deals are up after this season, but it looks as though the league, despite the recent advances in public perception in big bowls and in number of affiliations in small ones, will be stuck with what it's got -- or worse -- for its champion:
The Las Vegas Bowl.
Not just the Vegas Bowl, which is a notion with potential, but the opponent that the bowl draws.
In past years, the game has had the first choice among Mountain West teams, unless one qualified for a BCS bowl, pitting that choice against the No. 4 or No. 5 team from the Pac-10.
That was uninspiring enough.
But now, it appears the top choice from the MWC could have to face an opponent no better than No. 5 from the Pac-10, because the Alamo Bowl has entered the chase for the second team from the league, possibly bumping the Holiday Bowl to the No. 3 team, and the Sun Bowl to No. 4.
That leaves the Vegas Bowl to fight for No. 5.
If Utah, TCU or BYU goes 10-2 and wins the conference title, and is matched against a 7-5 UCLA, Cal, or Oregon State team, who's going to get pumped for that? ... Anybody?
Here's the question, then: Is the bowl an appropriate reward for the league's top team in a year its champion does not get into a BCS bowl?
And a better question: Can the Mountain West and the Vegas Bowl lure in an improved opponent?
One option is the WAC champion.
That sounds intriguing: Two league champs from two non-automatic-qualifying leagues having their own championship.
But the shine in that potential matchup gets smudged, big time, if Utah, at 11-1, made the game, and Boise State went undefeated, got invited to a BCS bowl, and left the Utes to face, say, 8-4 Nevada.
Another problem is that some of the other bowls with which the Mountain West is affiliated also include league-to-league matchups. Does the MWC want to be so closely tied to the WAC in the postseason?
Other options include the league trying to muscle in on the Holiday Bowl or the Cotton Bowl. To have any shot to pull that off, the Mountain West participant would have to guarantee giant ticket sales. Those bowls can plainly look at the league's track record when it comes to fans traveling, and it isn't particularly encouraging.
BYU usually travels well, especially to a place like San Diego. Utah draws its fans when it plays in BCS bowls, but its recent trips to the Emerald and Poinsettia weren't strong. Air Force did show well, selling 12,000 to the Armed Services Bowl a couple of seasons back.
On the whole, as the Mountain West bats its eyes and sticks out its bared leg to potential bowl suitors, too often it squints and pulls a hammy.
It's a Catch-22, because, on the one hand, bowls want to see big gate numbers, and, on the other, fans don't want to pay the costs of going to a bowl when a matchup isn't compelling.
Another consideration is for the Vegas Bowl to scratch up more cake so the Pac-10 will send a better team. If the Alamo pays $3 million and the Vegas pays $1 million, the picture is pretty clear.
The Mountain West has to swing the hammer, then, on the Vegas Bowl, and threaten to take its top choice elsewhere. The problem is ... where? The Poinsettia? The New Mexico? The Shamrock Meats?
The problem would ease, naturally, if the league's champ automatically went to a BCS bowl, with No. 2 or 3 annually facing a soiled opponent in Las Vegas. That would be easier to take, easier to handle. And one bonus remains: There are worse places to be when celebrating a football game and punctuating a season, no matter how it turns out.