Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Rumor mill: Mountain West / C-USA to merge?


With two schools now departing the Mountain West Conference, it looks like the league could be set for a total merger with Conference USA.

C-USA and the Mountain West announced in October that it would be forming a football-only alliance between the two conferences, beginning perhaps as early as the 2012 season. But in the past few days and weeks, it appears as though the two conferences will be implementing a complete merger in all sports. Certainly the proposal is gaining steam in a major way.

Numerous reports now say that the Mountain West and Conference USA will become one super conference with two divisions. While Air Force (which doesn't play softball) appears to be remaining on the fence about whether to move to the Big East Conference, a lot of different scenarios are in play.

Many believe the Mountain West will be inviting Utah State to join the conference sooner rather than later. San Jose State remains in the mix to join the MW as well, especially if Air Force decides to bolt for the Big East.

In the sport of softball, a merger between Conference USA and the Mountain West could mean big gains for everyone. C-USA sent a record five teams to the NCAA Tournament last season, and four of those (regular season champion Tulsa, tournament champion East Carolina, Memphis and UAB) are remaining in the league.

Combine those four teams with the nation's only school to reach every NCAA softball tournament ever held -- Fresno State of the Mountain West -- and that would give the conference five teams that ranked in the Top 45 of last season's softball Ratings Percentage Index.

Suffice it to say that a C-USA/Mountain West merger would be a boon for the sport and create one of the nation's strongest softball conferences. In fact, only three other conferences (the Pac-10, SEC and Big 12) in the nation last season could boast as many as five softball teams in the RPI Top 45.

Last season, the final RPI rankings looked like this: Tulsa 27th, East Carolina 33rd, Fresno State 36th, UAB 38th and Memphis 44th.

If San Jose State and Utah State are added to the Mountain West, as many expect, the C-USA/MW merged conference could feature 14 schools who currently sponsor the sport of softball.

Two softball divisions would potentially house seven teams each and look like this, perhaps as early as the 2013 season:

WEST

Colorado State
Fresno State
Nevada
New Mexico
San Jose State
UNLV
Utah State

EAST

Alabama-Birmingham
East Carolina
Marshall
Memphis
Southern Miss
Texas-El Paso
Tulsa