Steve Alford absorbed the news of Texas and Oklahoma announcing its intention to move from the Big 12 to the SEC like a lot of people in college athletics — with apprehension.
Alford has coached across the country with stops at the Power 5 level and the Group of 5 level, and he's intrigued to see how the rest of the dominoes in the last round of conference realignment fall. But one thing is for sure: He wants to see the Mountain West be aggressive so it comes out of this realignment in a position of strength.
“It’s going to be interesting to see," Alford told Nevada Sports Net. "As a league, we have to be on top of things and be aggressive, but that’s hard being aggressive coming out of COVID where financially you’ve taking a huge hit and you’re trying to ramp back up in a hurry. We’re fortunate to keep doing what we’re doing for starters, but it’s all football driven, we know that, and there’s a trickle-down effect not only with all sports but with all the leagues. What happens to the Mountain West? What happens to the American (Athletic) Conference? Just talking about basketball. The Mountain West and American are right after the Power 5s. And what will happen to the Big 12? The trickle down is the Big 12. Will they continue to do what they’re doing and add teams or are you going to see more teams in the Big 12 go to other Power 5 conferences and then you’ll see more trickle down? We’re not even sure how the trickle down is going to work yet because things are up in the air with the Big 12.”
The Big 12 would be down to eight teams after Texas and Oklahoma move to the SEC, which is currently scheduled for June 30, 2025, almost four full years away. The Big 12 could look to the Mountain West to rebuild and offer invitations to schools in the conference like Boise State, San Diego State, Colorado State or Air Force. Nevada would be much lower on the list of options for a power conference like the Big 12, which will have to fight to stay at that level with that kind of prestige and revenue.
Alford was in the MW the last time there was massive realignment and saw Utah, BYU and TCU leave while being replaced with Nevada, Boise State, Fresno State, Utah State and San Jose State (as well as Hawaii in football only). Alford said he's confident in the leadership commissioner Craig Thompson will provide during a potentially turbulent period.
“I’ve known Craig a long time with New Mexico and Nevada," Alford said. "He’s always been pretty aggressive and on top of things. It’s different because we have a different league with football than we do basketball. Do we stay on course with that or now that there becomes an opportunity do we go for that? There’s still time. I don’t think now is the exact time because the Big 12 has to settle and figure themselves out before that trickle starts. But when the trickle starts, I think we have to be prepared for where the Mountain West is going to go because you can't stay status quo.
"When I was in this league at New Mexico, we had Utah, we had BYU, we had TCU. Those teams used to be in the Mountain West and now one is in the Big 12, Utah is in the Pac-12 and BYU is with Gonzaga and that group (in the West Coast Conference). We just don’t want to be caught where we’re a league that’s in between."
The biggest fear from the Group of 5 level would be a pack of power-conference schools breaking away and essentially forming its own division. That could enable those schools to have their own football and basketball national tournaments, and it'd make scheduling, which is already difficult, even more untenable for non-power conference schools.
"My fear is that the realignment happens the way it looks like it’s going, you’re going to have 64 schools in two or three leagues, and our (national basketball) tournament is a little over 64," Alford said. "That’s going to be problematic for everybody else. And I don’t think that’s good. Even if it’s football driven, I don’t think it’s good for football and I don’t think it’s good for basketball. It is good for those schools in the realignment, but that’s not the majority of us. Unfortunately, that looks like where we’re going.”