The Mountain West will split into two six-team divisions for football and play a conference championship game.
Those were major decisions to come out of two packed days of meetings for the league’s athletic directors at the Courtyard by Marriott Denver Airport. The other big development involves men’s and women’s basketball, as the 11-team league will feature a schedule that includes two games against everyone except for two randomly selected opponents, who will face off just once.
Air Force’s football division — called the Mountain — will include Boise State, Colorado State, New Mexico, Utah State and Wyoming. The Falcons will play each of those teams each season along with three games against teams from the West, a group that is made up of Fresno State, Hawaii, Nevada, San Diego State, San Jose State and UNLV.
The winners of each division will meet in a conference championship game hosted by the division winner ranked highest in the BCS standings.
“We had some pretty intense discussions,” Air Force athletic director Hans Mueh said. “But this morning just before everybody broke, we all sort of took a step back and said, you know, we’re in a pretty good conference. We have done some amazing things. (Commissioner) Craig Thompson has done a miraculous job of not only holding the conference together but of getting some of the best teams from the Western Athletic Conference and getting Boise State and San Diego State to come back into the fold.”
It was those changes to the conference makeup, adding San Jose and Utah State and thwarting the planned exits of the Broncos and Aztecs that prompted the need for some quick decisions on how to move forward.
Online criticism of the divisions was quick to point out that Boise State misses out on quality teams on the West Coast, but Mueh said the makeup of the divisions was an easy choice dictated by geography.
“The existing rivalries were maintained,” he said. “That was crucial.”
Air Force’s three opponents from the West will vary by season and will be determined by a computer-generated scheduling program. The opponents for 2013 will likely not be known for up to six weeks.
Air Force football coach Troy Calhoun was not available for comment.
The basketball schedule is different in part because the league has just 11 teams — Hawaii is a football-only member. Air Force will have home-and-away games against eight other teams and will play just one game each against two teams that will be randomly generated by a computer program. The random selection will be done each season, meaning it is possible that the same team could be selected in consecutive seasons.
No timetable was given for the basketball opponents to be released.
“We decided the fairest way to do this was to not have existing rivalries and have the computer generate it.”
Q&A with Air Force athletic director Hans Mueh
How will the football schedule work on a year-to-year basis in regards to opponents from the West division?
We play the five in the Mountain division and, let’s say for example, we pick up Hawaii at their place. The next year we wouldn’t have Hawaii and the year after that Hawaii would come to our place – if the computer model is prefect.
When will the football opponents for 2013 be known?
The computer guys tell us it might take six weeks. We’re hoping to have something a little faster than that because we’re going to have work with our TV partners and all sorts of things. We’re hoping to have a rough schedule in a couple of weeks, just to see what it would look like, but I don’t think we’ll have a final one for another six weeks or so.
Is there still a chance other teams will join the league for next season?
I think right now that is up to the presidents, but there isn’t any noise out there that I’ve heard about going past 12.
Was the East-West division of the conference in football the only split discussed or were other options on the table?
When the dust settled and after the discussions were done, absolutely. That had to be the way. There really wasn’t any other discussion.
Is there a chance the football championship game would eventually be played at a neutral site, or is playing it at the home of the top-ranked team viewed as the long-term plan?
It’s economically the better way to do it. You could argue that it’s not a neutral site, but that’s just the way it is. The top-ranked team will host; you ought to strive to be the top-ranked team. … If there’s an offer out there in the future as this game gets more and more credibility, sure, I’m sure the conference would look at maybe having a neutral site game for the championship.
Were Olympic sports discussed at the meetings?
Yes, and we came up with a philosophy that we will sponsor championships for the different sports. The question is teams that will go to that championship. I think that varies by sport. In soccer, for example, you don’t want everybody there because it would kill them before the NCAA. You can’t be playing three soccer games in three days, that just doesn’t work. But in other sports maybe everybody goes. We’re still working that out. … We’re going back to the coaches for the Olympic sports to see what they would prefer. After we get their input we’ll talk a little more and find the best way ahead for those other sports.
What are your feelings on the developments that have solidified the league and how does that impact the sports landscape for Air Force?
I think opportunities just went up. I like it. I think we’re in good shape. The divisions that we’ve established, I think they’re pretty equitable. We keep our rivals and we add Utah State to our side. I don’t know that playing Boise State every year is a good deal, but it is what it is, we’ll just have to strap it on.