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Mountain West not expanding for now; USU left in the cold?

Published January 27, 2011 10:50 am

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2011, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Las Vegas • The Mountain West Conference, which had been in discussions to expand, has decided to do nothing.

Amid speculation that Utah State was on the verge of receiving a bid to the MWC, the league concluded its two-day Board of Directors meeting without committing to expansion.

That leaves the USU program, for the time being, in a struggling Western Athletic Conference that has one more year of stability before losing Fresno State and Nevada to the Mountain West. And while the MWC didn't definitively decide against expansion, the league gave no timetable for any future plans.

"Over the past two days, the Board of Directors has engaged in a very thorough discussion of several key topics pertinent to the future of the Mountain West Conference," the board said in a prepared statement.

"This has included, but not been limited to, issues related to television, the Bowl Championship Series and membership. The Board feels strongly the membership configuration already established going forward creates outstanding prospects for future success. In addition, we are continuing with our strategic initiatives related to our television partnerships and the MWC's efforts to effect change in the BCS structure. The Board is excited about what is undoubtedly a bright future for the Conference."

That effectively puts the brakes on two days of rumors and reports that an invitation to Utah State was imminent.

The Salt Lake Tribune learned on Monday that Mountain West Commissioner Craig Thompson met with Comcast last week, possibly to negotiate a television deal with the league.

It was also learned that Comcast, in an effort to keep a foothold in the Utah market, is in favor of Utah State being added to the MWC if the conference decides to expand to a 12-team format that would create a football championship game.

However, in a college landscape driven by football, the Aggies have yet to measure up. Heading into Gary Andersen's third year, Utah State is coming off back-to-back 4-8 seasons. As such, despite significant upgrades to its facilities, the feeling among detractors is that USU brought little value with its football program.

And there is still a question as to how much of the Salt Lake City television market the Aggies could command. Reached on Tuesday by The Tribune, WAC commissioner Karl Benson said that he has no choice but to operate under the premise that Utah State and San Jose State will be a part of his conference for the foreseeable future.

Benson also confirmed that Utah Valley University, whom he has spoken to about possible inclusion into the league, is still very much a possibility to join the WAC as a non-football member.

"We can now get serious about exploring our options," Benson said. "I believe this means we can move forward with the understanding that Utah State and San Jose State are and will be a part of the WAC future."

tjones@sltrib.com