San Diego State stay in Mountain West (for now)

The expected divorce between the conference and the Aztecs did not happen as the school will stay put but how long will that last?

LAS VEGAS — Well whadda you know? Common sense prevailed for a change.

San Diego State is staying in the Mountain West Conference — for now. The two sides agreed to remain married. That is until a suitable suitor comes a callin’ for the Aztecs, and perhaps others.

“I think my overarching philosophy to the entire thing is San Diego State is a positive to the Mountain West,” conference commissioner Gloria Nevarez said Wednesday at the league’s football media day in Las Vegas. “We are better with San Diego State, and I feel good about where we landed.” 

The Mountain West and San Diego State have been playing a game of chicken for the better part of a month after the Aztecs sent a letter to the conference saying they were exiting despite having nowhere to go. Once the SDSU president realized she had done something incredibly stupid, the school basically said, “Nah, we were only joking. We ain’t leaving.”

The Mountain West didn’t find it all that amusing. As far as Nevarez and her league was concerned, they were fine granting the Aztecs a divorce. The conference did everything but throw the school’s clothes out the window.

So naturally, lawyers got involved. San Diego State claimed it had no intention to leave, which of course is downright laughable and the Mountain West, cutting off its nose to spite its face, said, “You want to stay? Fine. Re-apply for admission. Oh, and that $6.6 million you raised for the league for making that improbable run to the NCAA men’s basketball championship game? Sorry, you don’t get any of it.”

So back and forth the lawyers went, and lo and behold, the two parties agreed to stay together. San Diego State gets its money, the Mountain West keeps its stability for the time being and hopefully, there was a lesson learned, which is, look before you leap.

But Nevarez says she knows the marriage is still on somewhat rocky ground. The Pac-12 is still trying to get its act together with a new media-rights deal, and depending on what the offer is, UCLA and USC might be joined by other schools in departing from the Pac-12. San Diego State might very well find itself being courted by the Pac-12 in the coming months as that conference’s presidents move at a glacier-like pace. And the Big-12, which is eyeing expansion to the West Coast in its quest to be college basketball’s premier conference, might want to invited the Aztecs, and perhaps UNLV should the Runnin’ Rebels regain their footing as a power. 

“I mean today, yeah. Tomorrow? Who knows, right?,” Nevarez said about the Aztecs’ future in her league. “It’s constantly changing, but I really feel good about where we are as a league and keeping San Diego State for this year.”

It’s the 25th year of the Mountain West, which was created out of defections from the Western Athletic Conference. The WAC has never been the same. San Diego State was part of that migration so this is nothing new. Trying to upgrade the status of your athletic program should be the mandate of every athletic director.

But there’s a right way and a wrong way to go about doing it. And San Diego State was prepared to jump out of the airplane without a parachute, not knowing where or if it would land. And I’m sure SDSU president Adela de la Torre learned her lesson. Fortunately, it was just about paying the conference’s lawyers’ billable hours this time. And the reality that the conference is better off with the Aztecs than without them.

Meanwhile, the attention now shifts to the Pac-12. Supposedly, no announcement on its TV deal is forthcoming at the conference’s media day Friday in Las Vegas. The league is like the kid from a large family that is late to the dinner table and has only scraps left. Given the financial climate that is permeating TV, a company like ESPN or Fox is not in a position to offer the Pac-12 a lucrative deal. And the other streaming options such as Apple TV or Amazon Prime aren’t all that appealing frankly. So the Pac-12’s first obligation should be to its remaining members before it looks to fill vacancies.

So enjoy the peaceful bliss Mountain West. Embrace San Diego State. But know that the day is probably coming where lawyers will be needed once again.