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Scenes during the Air Force and Lafayette Leopards football game at Falcon Stadium at the United States Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo. on Sept. 4, 2021. The Air Force Falcons won the game against the Lafayette Leopards by a score of 35-14. (Chancey Bush/ The Gazette)

Air Force may yet be included in the latest chapter of conference realignment.

CBS Sports reported on Thursday that the Falcons, along with fellow Mountain West members Boise State, Colorado State and San Diego State, are being targeted by the American Athletic Conference.

UAB from Conference USA was also being eyed by the AAC, according to the report.

The AAC will soon lose Cincinnati, Houston and UCF to the Big 12, a move that was set in motion by the departures of Oklahoma and Texas from the Big 12 to the SEC.

The CBS Sports report cited a source from the Group of Five suggesting any moves would be unlikely at this point, given the Big 12’s openness to expand again — a move that could include Boise State and Memphis (from the AAC).

"Anybody with aspirations for the Big 12 [might say], 'Why would I go anywhere except wait for a couple of years and wait for the Big 12 to expand again?'" the source told CBS Sports.

But there are variables that could entice programs like Air Force — roughly $3 million of them.

The AAC is playing under a 12-year contract with ESPN that runs through 2031-32 and pays its members around $7 million annually.

The Mountain West entered into a six-year deal through 2025-26 with CBS and Fox worth $270 million, a figure that would pay its programs around $4 million each year.

A move to the AAC, which includes Navy among its members, could allow Air Force flexibility in scheduling. The Falcons are committed to playing one of their four nonconference slots each year with the Midshipmen. Moving that to a conference game (at least in some seasons, assuming they were not placed in the same division) would allow the possibility of taking a “money” game at a Power Five program or opening possibilities of games at Falcon Stadium or at neutral sites.

Air Force opted not to comment on the CBS reports.

The other variable at play is inclusion in the College Football Playoff. The surest avenue for a Group of Five team into the current New Years Six games or a potentially expanded playoffs would be as the highest-rated team from the top conference outside the Power Five. With the departures of three AAC teams to the Big 12, the Mountain West is currently well positioned to earn that distinction among conferences. If Air Force, Boise State, Colorado State and San Diego State defect to the AAC, they would likely take that clout to their new conference.

Windfall money from the College Football Playoff, and the NCAA Basketball Tournament, could all but negate the difference in guaranteed payout a Mountain West team could gain by moving to the AAC. So, these four schools — barring a Big 12 invitation — may find it to be in their best interest to stay together either in standing pat in the Colorado Springs-based Mountain West or moving to the AAC.

A move from the Mountain West for Colorado State could threaten the Border War between the Rams and Wyoming, a series that has included 112 meetings since 1899.

Air Force, Colorado State and San Diego State were among the charter members of the Mountain West when it formed in 1999. Two other charter members — BYU and Utah — have already left. Boise State joined in 2011.


The long and short of it

Geography takes a backseat to television dollars under the ever-changing conference membership scene in college football (after all, San Diego State nearly joined the Big East at one point). Still, here’s a look at the Mountain West vs. the American Athletic Conference (after the upcoming departures of Cincinnati, Houston and UCF) in terms of miles from the Air Force Academy (via highway when applicable). And keep in mind that Colorado State and Boise State could be among those coming along in a move.

Mountain West

Colorado State 125

Wyoming 190

New Mexico 358

Utah State 570

UNLV 815

Boise State 872

Nevada 1,069

San Diego State 1,099

Fresno State 1,208

San Jose State 1,330

Hawaii 3,340

American Athletic Conference

Tulsa 676

SMU 735

Memphis 1,039

Tulane 1,224

Navy 1,696

Temple 1,741

East Carolina 1,755

South Florida 1,831

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