SOUTH BEND, Ind. – The chances of Air Force remaining in the Mountain West for all sports appears slim, although football could remain in the MW, depending on the state of the Big East.
Air Force athletic director Hans Mueh said the academy is “strongly leaning” towards moving its sports other than football to the Missouri Valley Conference, which has told Air Force it would be interested in hosting those teams.
“Now that I’m excited about this, I might push to bring those other sports to the Missouri Valley Conference, even if we stayed in the Mountain West for football,” Mueh said.
Mueh said the Big East is an attractive option for Air Force football for a few reasons. He met with Big East commissioner John Marinatto in early August, as the conference gathered information on Air Force. After Pittsburgh and Syracuse left the Big East, Marinatto called Mueh to gauge his interest.
Money is a factor. Air Force makes $1.2 million annually from the Mountain West’s television deal, and the Big East thinks it could get $9-10 million annually for each school in its next television deal. Money isn’t the only factor, however. Mueh said he turned down interest from the Big 12 earlier this year because Air Force didn’t match up well with Big 12 schools in recruiting, budget and enrollment.
“This has always been about what’s best for the cadets,” Mueh said. “I turned down the Big 12, and that would have been mega money, but for what?”
Mueh said a reason Air Force is interested in the Big East option is exposure on the East Coast. Air Force recruits nationally, and not just for sports.
“It’s a market we never get into,” Mueh said. “And this isn’t just about football recruiting, it’s about recruiting for the Air Force Academy.”
Army and Navy might also join Air Force in the Big East, which has not issued a formal invitation to the Falcons. While Mueh stopped short of saying it would be a deal breaker for Air Force if both other service academies didn’t join, he said the inclusion of Army and Navy would make the Big East a more attractive option. Mueh said Air Force is monitoring what happens with the Big East before making any decision.
“It would be a great conference with the three service academies and the other schools that are in that conference,” Mueh said. “I think we’d have a very marketable Big East.”
The health of the other sports, particularly the women’s sports, is what has Mueh leaning towards the Missouri Valley Conference. Many of Air Force’s non-football sports have struggled to win in the Mountain West.
“I hurt with them,” Mueh said. “All I’m trying to do is give them a better opportunity to compete. I think that they could do that better in the Missouri Valley Conference than in the Mountain West.”
Mueh said it is hard for Air Force to recruit against Mountain West schools, given the Falcons’ academic standards and service commitment. He and his staff did homework on the MVC and found that conference’s institutions are a good match with Air Force. Mueh said the Missouri Valley has not officially invited the Falcons, but said it is interested.
Any change wouldn’t likely happen until the 2013-14, because there is a $5 million exit fee with the Mountain West if Air Force wanted to leave for next school year, and Mueh said he won’t pay that. Mueh said he hopes all decisions could be made within the next month.