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Jeff Eisenberg

Joining the Mountain West would save Utah State basketball

Jeff Eisenberg
The Dagger

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UPDATE: The Mountain West announced Tuesday that it will not expand at this time, a damaging blow to the future of the Utah State basketball program.

In short, I think Utah State will remain a strong program if it stays in the WAC longterm, but more in the mold of a Weber State than a BYU. The Aggies typically will not have the strength of schedule necessary to earn a favorable NCAA tournament seed or make it as an-large team and they'll have to win their conference tournament just to make the field.

Once most of the reshuffling during last summer's chaotic conference realignment had quieted down, I had a chance to speak to an athletic director from a West Coast school about some of the ramifications.

He told me the basketball program he thought would suffer most was Utah State.

Left behind among the dying embers of the WAC after peers Nevada, Fresno State and Boise State all made the jump to the Mountain West, Utah State was destined to be a big fish in more of a puddle than a small pond. The athletic director thought Utah State's RPI numbers might plummet so far that he instructed his basketball coaches not to schedule the Aggies until they found a stronger conference to call home.

Anecdotes like this one are why it would be so monumental for the future of Utah State basketball if Monday's reports that the Mountain West has now decided to scoop up the Aggies turn out to be true.

Both the current and former Deseret News Utah State beat writers report that the Mountain West will add Utah State as its 11th member. There are conflicting reports regarding whether the Mountain West will also pluck San Jose State, but it's likely a 12th team would come aboard to enable the league to hold a football conference title game.

While the addition of San Jose State would make zero sense for the Mountain West because of the Spartans' lack of facilities, pedigree or fan support, plucking Utah State from the WAC would have more benefits. Sure, the Aggies' football program won't strengthen the conference, but Utah State provides a foothold in the Salt Lake City market and a consistently solid basketball program to help replace BYU and Utah.

Add Utah State to the current trio of San Diego State, New Mexico and UNLV, and the Mountain West would have four schools currently competing for at-large NCAA tournament bids on a regular basis. Colorado State has shown signs of life under coach Tim Miles and newcomer Nevada isn't far removed from playing at a high level under former coaches Trent Johnson and Mark Fox.

If last summer's expansion crisis taught us anything, it's not to believe news is definite until there's a press release to make it official. Still, these reports have to give Utah State fans hope.

Staying in the new WAC would mean Utah State hoops would become Weber State, a perennially strong program that has to win its conference tournament to have any chance to reach the NCAA tournament. Bolting for the Mountain West, on the other hand, gives the Aggies a chance to finally take the next step toward relevance on a national level.

Instead of being a victim of realignment, they would become one of the schools that benefits from it.

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