Question, and uncertainty, persist about the New Mexico State Aggie football program and their conference affiliation.
One thing I can say: I really believe the Aggies — barring them getting lucky and falling into the Mountain West Conference — will be playing independent football in 2013. Just my thought. Obviously the WAC can’t hold together as a football-playing league with just NMSU and Idaho in its membership. That, and if the conference was to add some FCS programs to the mix in hopes of sustaining its football model, I think the turnaround is too soon to get it done by the 2013 season. Could the Aggies go independent in 2013, maybe 2014, and then hop back into a revamped WAC the following season? Perhaps. It’s one option they could look at. Yet the Aggies have to win no matter where they are — in the WAC, in another conference, or as an independent program. They just have to, or else Division I football here could be in peril.
So the question becomes, could they win as an independent? Well, they’d have to schedule with the intentions of winning, which means playing too many money games is something that can’t happen — two would seem like the number to play, and those would have to be balanced out by two winnable games, perhaps against FCS competition, on the schedule. Another issue with this is the financial component — NMSU received money from being in the WAC. Just think about when Boise State or Hawaii would make a BCS Bowl game, and the Aggies would rake in around $500,000 simply for the respective schools appearances in such contests. So, more than two money games to balance such costs? It might be necessary, but also costly for your football team in other ways.
There are also necessary requirements in scheduling, one of which is to play 60 percent of games against FBS competition, five of which must come at home. Getting such teams to play in Las Cruces could be challenging, although setting up a scheduling agreement with another league — one in which the Aggies would agree to play three or four of the respective conference’s teams on the road, in exchange for three or four return games in Las Cruces from the league’s remaining schools — would seem necessary. That, and the University of Idaho could be in the same boat as the Aggies, so perhaps a home and home with the Vandals could be in order. That, and hopefully getting a rivalry game with UNM and UTEP at home would still be in the cards.
Perhaps it wouldn’t be as bad as advertised — again, with the right schedule in place. Perhaps a more regional schedule could be in the offering. And, while recruiting surely isn’t being helped by the Aggies current situation, do players really care about conference affiliation? To a degree, yes. But, it's also a bit overrated. Players care about competing on the Division I level, and being bowl eligible. And, again, if the Aggies set up a winnable docket, both those things are still attainable.
As stated on the Cruces Sports Blog before, an independent program would only be a short-term solution to the greater issue — finding the Aggies a conference for football. A stop-gap of one year, two years tops. But it’s also doable, if done correctly.
Follow me on Twitter @TeddyFeinberg