Aggies' Football Future Is Facing a Fourth-and-Long

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It’s one thing to be in a league of your own. It’s quite another for that to happen because nobody wants to join you.

So somebody read the story in Tuesday’s Journal about Utah State and San Jose State showing interest in the Mountain West, and raised this question:

“Why not invite NMSU(?) It’s a natural fit and it would be good for UNM to have the Aggies in conference.”

Well, if New Mexico State was wanted, it would not be left behind with Idaho in a house-of-cards league that is crumbling around it — which is sad, given the Western Athletic Conference’s proud history.

If NMSU was wanted, it would have joined the list of umpteen schools that have found greener pastures in another conference. You’d have Barbara Couture, NMSU president, and McKinley Boston, athletic director, talking in grandiose terms about finding its fit in a new, comfortable home with like-minded institutions.

Instead, Boston sent out this statement Tuesday: “It is so easy to look at this as the sky is falling,” when he insists it isn’t.

Unfortunately, statements intended to calm can have the opposite effect.

Why not invite NMSU, Mountain West? New Mexico State (and UTEP, for that matter) at least offer some geographical integrity to a process that has gone insane, with conferences realigning and expanding from coast to coast as collective-bargaining alliances before the powers of TV.

But therein is the rub.

NMSU’s status as a large land-grant institution, as a NASA Space Grant College, its teaching, its research matters not at all in that context. Instead:

NMSU is in Las Cruces, which is part of the 91st largest TV market in the nation, according to Nielsen. It bears mentioning that the market is El Paso. That’s home to UTEP, and UTEP gets the attention. It’s not good to be a small market program in the first place — much less sharing it with a university that’s in another conference.

“That is our wart,” Boston told the Las Cruces Sun-News. Here’s another: a football program that hasn’t been to a bowl in five decades (thus, never sharing any bowl revenue with anybody) and doesn’t draw.

Boston told the Journal on Tuesday that nothing is off the table in terms of what might happen next.

Yes, New Mexico should lobby the MWC to take the Aggies. But even assuming UNM wants NMSU in the league, does it have any pull to make it happen?

And if not, then what? A revamped WAC with no football? How would Aggies football even operate? Who would come to play at Aggie Memorial, other than UTEP and UNM every other year, if it didn’t have to?

Maybe NMSU, in a gesture that underscores its failed excursion into the WAC, returns to the Sun Belt Conference. There, your big league games are against folks like Arkansas State and Florida International. Whooo-hooo.

Failing that, should New Mexico State consider dropping down to Football Championship Subdivision status, which means 63 football scholarships instead of 85?

The thought here is yes.

That surely sounds bad to Boston-Couture, who don’t want it to happen on their watch, or some Aggie fans.

But it might be the least distasteful of several distasteful alternatives. It would give NMSU reason, and justification, to return to a more economically sensible athletic budget, one of self-sustenance.

In 2010-11, NMSU spent $22 million in athletics, according to federal figures. Montana ($17 million) and Montana State ($14.5 million) play football at a big time (for FCS) level, but spend far less. Northern Arizona ($11 million), even less. All play in a conference, the Big Sky, that would fit the Aggies.

Asked over a year ago whether NMSU should consider FCS status, Boston said: “It’s not in our best interest as an institution, to our brand, when we’re defined in a lot of ways by the company we keep. … The Sun Belt (was) not good company.”

That was then. But today, it’d be nice to have some company, period.
— This article appeared on page D1 of the Albuquerque Journal