Get out the beach towel, sun screen and shades because the University of Wyoming football team travels to Hawaii this weekend.
One of the most difficult things for any coaching staff preparing for a game against the Rainbow Warriors is not the wide-open offensive schemes or the big Hawaiian defenders, but rather it’s keeping a team 100 percent focused on the sport of football amid numerous potential distractors.
Sandy beaches and 24-hour idyllic weather will bless pale Wyomingites accustomed to snow, ice and wind this time of year. Regardless of the state of the Hawaii football program — and this year it’s quite good at 5-1 — the trip to Honolulu is always difficult, and quite frankly the Rainbow Warriors don’t really belong in the Mountain West Conference. They don’t really belong anywhere for that matter.
When looking at a map of the United States, in most cases Hawaii accompanies Alaska as the two states that are shown not in their proper location — yes, those series of islands sit further than a few miles from the California coast. The final two states don’t naturally fit with the other 48, and the Rainbow Warriors don’t naturally fit in the MWC either.
Now, MWC Commissioner Craig Thompson has said on numerous occasions that the league is not looking to expand. He likes the current 12-team divisional format for football and the 11-team basketball field.
But let’s take out that map again and just have a little fun and look to see if the MWC were to expand where it could go.
I think University of Texas at El Paso stands as one of the more logical expansion partners for the conference. The Miners have a rich and proud basketball history, have a gorgeous football stadium — the Sun Bowl that hosts an annual bowl game — and on paper they fit the MWC mold. El Paso sits right on the border of New Mexico and gets the league into the Texas market.
UTEP’s Interstate 15 rival New Mexico State is another reasonable option for potential MWC expansion. The Aggies have one of the most beleaguered football programs in the country — they clinched a bowl bid last year for the first time in over half a century — but they level that off with one of the more solid mid-major basketball programs that has made the NCAA Tournament six of the last seven seasons. The Aggies would give New Mexico a conference rival and once again fit that MWC mold, albeit not expanding the conference’s reach.
The MWC could try and entice the two FCS Montana schools to make the jump to the FBS and join the league. Not sure how feasible of an ask that would be, but both schools would bring something desirable to the table, especially in football. Both Big Sky schools are consistently ranked inside the top 25 and Montana consistently boasts the best FCS attendance, sitting north of 23,500 — which is more than 3,000 higher than Wyoming’s average attendance.
Other already FBS reasonable expansion partners include Rice — for the Texas footprint and academic standing — Southern Methodist University for the Dallas-Fort Worth television market and Louisiana Tech to expand the conference’s reach into the talent-rich south.
Just this past spring there was talk about Gonzaga joining the MWC as a basketball-only member. That would have really elevated the conference on the hardwood but the Bulldogs eventually just ended up leveraging those rumors into getting what they wanted from their current home inside the West Coast Conference.
It doesn’t appear as though the conference will expand anytime soon. But with it being Hawaii week it’s a good time to ask, can we kick this team out and nix the horrible travel to beautiful Hawaii.