How the Mountain West Conference stands compared to other college conferences

Photo by Taya Power-Thornton

The Mountain West Conference (MWC) has long been one of great highs and lows.

From multiple New Year’s Six bowl appearances, deep March Madness runs to underrated golf and cross country programs, in recent years, the MWC has turned into a power house in the Group of Five (G5), and in many ways, walks the line between G5 and Power Five conference levels in terms of its competitiveness.

Will the Mountain West “come of age” with the new additions of former PAC-12 additions in Washington State University and Oregon State University, or will the conference bog down over the next few years?


Entering its 25th year of competition, the conference has seen 16 different schools throughout its history, however not all have hung around.

Inaugural members, University of Utah and Brigham Young University (BYU), have elevated to Power Five status, while Texas Christian University (TCU) had a seven year stint in the MWC before leaving for the Big 12 in 2012.

Since then, the Division I landscape has seen some drastic changes. Football has seen the introduction and expansion of a post season playoff, March Madness has seen considerable growth in viewership and who could forget about NIL?

The Mountain West has not only survived all these changes, but flourished in them.

The conference has seen members win cross country nationals (University of New Mexico, Las Vegas/UNLV), go as far as the March Madness finals (San Diego State/SDSU), win Fiesta Bowls (Boise State).

Other notable accomplishments include record revenue distribution in 2021, first round NFL draft selections, league record NBA draft selections, and a record high of eight football teams that participated in bowl games in 2015.

The MWC also has access to large, untapped markets in cities like San Diego, Las Vegas, Boise, San Jose and all of Hawai’i.


So why isn’t the Mountain West, or why aren’t Mountain West schools Power Five candidates?

It’s a difficult question to answer, almost as difficult as answering, “What qualifies as a Power Five conference?”

In the simplest of terms, Power Five conferences have a lot of money. Commonly, TV and streaming deals often revolve around these conferences and the Group of Five conferences tend to get the scraps.

More specifically as to why, however, in the past these conferences have been granted automatic bids to New Year’s Six Bowl games (Rose Bowl, Orange Bowl, Sugar Bowl, Cotton Bowl, Peach Bowl, and Fiesta Bowl), as well as automatic bids to the NCAA Basketball tournaments.

With the emergence of a 12 team College Football Playoff, this translates to the previously agreed upon “6+6” model, where six conference champions will be granted a playoff berth, in addition to six more, “at large teams”. 

With the recent conference realignment during the Summer of 2023, things should change, but haven’t as of yet. 

It’s hard to imagine that the “PAC-2,” made up of WSU and OSU, will retain their automatic bid, seeing as one of them would thereby have a 50% chance to make the playoffs before any games are played. Ideas like a, “5+7,” model have been thrown around in executive meetings, however nothing is concrete as of yet.

Seeing as the distinction between a Power Five and Group of Five conference is largely based on prior contractual agreements between conferences, it is almost impossible to see the Mountain West Conference, or any G5 conference being ‘upgraded’.

Doing this would essentially allow for a lower conference to have a share of the pie, that otherwise they wouldn’t have had.

With that said, the PAC-12 isn’t officially dead, it’s only ceremoniously. What’s more likely is that an assortment of schools will fill the now empty PAC-12, or it will cease to exist.

Prior agreements to bids and things of that nature already exist and would likely continue to exist if the conference rose from the dead, though nothing is truly guaranteed.

By NCAA rule, a conference must be made of seven or more schools who compete in 12 Division I sports, men’s and women’s basketball being mandatory.

Five schools that meet this criteria (that I also happen to think would make for an exciting conference) are BYU, SDSU, Fresno State, UNLV and Boise State.

With all of that in mind, how likely is all of that to happen?

Well, not very likely. Just like big Power Five schools, the Mountain West has bowl contracts as well. The Broncos went to the L.A. Bowl last season partially because there’s a predetermined tie-in with the PAC-12 and MWC.

For the PAC-12 to fill its holes, it would require poking more holes in other conferences.

What’s good about this is that, in theory, there should be more talent in the Mountain West. The bad comes in more of a holistic form. The argument that “big schools are eating up all the good players from the smaller schools”, doesn’t really hold true here, at least not for the MWC. 

Of the 193 football transfers between all Power Five schools and all Mountain West schools, 18% left the MWC, while 30% came to the MWC. In other words, there’s more talent coming in than going out.

Overall, the Mountain West looks to be in a relatively good position at the moment, especially when you compare it to the PAC-12. With OSU and WSU being in limbo at the moment, the MWC’s worst case scenario is that those teams run off to other conferences once the 2024-2025 season is over, and the best case scenario is that those schools join the MWC.

This Post Has One Comment

  1. Jeff

    The MWC will be considered a Power 5 conference once OSU and WSU join. You ask what the MWC is missing? Well, really nothing (as you mentioned) except an expanded member footprint and visibility. Oregon State and Washington State bring both in two of the larger and more populated Western U.S. states. Moving the needle from 11 to 13 quality full members will be a big deal for the MWC and will move the TV rights negotiations needle in a positive direction. The MWC will by no means be at the top of the P5, but it will be considered a P5 nonetheless.

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