The Big 12 expansion is a hot topic throughout college football. Undoubtedly, it has executives on edge in the American, Sun Belt, and Mountain West Conferences as well as Conference USA. The Big 12 has stated it hopes to add two or four teams and those additions can be announced as soon as September.
It is likely that the Conference will add one more team in the upper midwest or east to placate West Virginia and give them a "travel partner." However, for a school like New Mexico State, it is hoping the other comes from the mountain region with both Boise State and Colorado State seen as targets.
Why? Well, the Aggies themselves are being kicked out of the Sun Belt Conference. They were a football-only member of the conference, but with the upgrade of programs such as Georgia Southern and Coastal Carolina in the Sun Belt footprint, it makes New Mexico State expendable. So Big 12 expansion may be happening at just the right time for New Mexico State Athletics as the football team is about to end their membership with the Sun Belt Conference after the 2017 season and they are desparately trying to stay in the Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) instead of moving to the Football Championship Division (FCS) like fellow Sun Belt Conference refugee University of Idaho.
“We are monitoring that situation and you know we are hopeful that they do expand or other leagues expand. We hope that there is some movement, which causes some reshuffling and we can slip into a conference. The one thing that we can do is win ball games. We need to make ourselves as valuable as a commodity as we can”, said NMSU Athletic Director Mario Moccia.
By taking in either Boise State or Colorado State, that would potentially open up a spot in the Mountain West Conference, which would then have an imbalance. The Aggies already have a rivalry with cross-state rival University of New Mexico, a MWC member. More likely, the Big 12 will look to the “go to” realignment conference of the American Athletic Conference (AAC) and pick off schools that may include Houston, Memphis, and/or Cincinnati. New Mexico State is not a natural fit in the AAC – with likely remaining schools including Connecticut, Temple, UCF, USF, and Tulsa among others. However, a ransacking of the AAC could in turn create a trickle down effect where schools from other conference such as Conference USA will also jump to fill the void in the AAC.
Conference USA would be the second best choice for New Mexico State. First, it would allow them to rekindle a conference rivalry with UTEP – which is the next closest school geographically to the Aggies. It would also give it some other Texas opponents, including Texas-San Antonio, Rice, and North Texas.
New Mexico State would love an invitation from the AAC itself too, but it would be very far-fetched as the reformulated AAC has lacked an identity since the Big 12, Big Ten and ACC already poached almost 10 schools from the conference. The Aggies really don’t have a market to speak of. They don’t particularly have a history of athletic success either. So, it is hard to see the AAC expanding in their favor when more strategic options such as schools in Conference USA and Sun Belt may be more strategic, or even independents such as Army or Massachusetts which have natural rivalries with schools already in the AAC.
In the end, New Mexico State may still be on the outside looking in as FBS goes through its next reshuffling. While Conference USA and the Mountain West would be great options for them, it is not a definite without the Aggies bringing enough to the table. Conference alignment is about money after all!