While the Aggies entered the Sun Belt this week as a football-only member in the 2014 season, they remain in the Western Athletic Conference for all other sports affiliations. With that, we take a look at possible leagues the Aggies could join, if they chose to explore the possibilities:
Missouri Valley Conference
This could be the Aggies’ top choice at the moment, as old-school NMSU hoop heads have fond memories of the MVC. League rivals such as Indiana State, Wichita State, Creighton, Southern Illinois and West Texas State brought in standout players such as Larry Bird, Antoine Carr, Cliff Levingston, Greg Dreiling and Xavier McDaniel. Highly-competitive play followed. In the present, while Creighton will be leaving the conference (to join the former Big East) The Valley remains a solid mid-major basketball conference (look no further than Wichita State, who's currently making a deep run in this year's NCAA Tournament). The issue for fellow league members would be geography: The conference is clustered in the midwest, in towns such as Carbondale, Ill., Normal, Ill., Springfield, Mo. and Terre Haute, Ind. While the Aggies could be willing to foot the bill traveling to such destinations, convincing opposing teams to fly non-football sports into El Paso would be the top challenge.
Big West Conference
Similar to the Missouri Valley, this is a league the Aggies have history with (they were longtime members of the Big West during the 1980s and 90s) and understandable sentiment. Still, it’s an agreement that seems unlikely due to travel restrictions. Outside of the University of Hawaii, the Big West consists of California-based programs located primarily in the southern part of the state. Schools such as Long Beach State, UC Irvine, UC Santa Barbara, Cal State Fullerton, Cal State Northridge and UC Riverside don't have to travel far to play league games. When the Big West added Boise State briefly last year (the Broncos never actually played within the league), BSU was asked to pay travel subsidies for visiting conference counterparts coming to town. Some things to consider when making the Aggies case.
West Coast Conference
This is a league comprised of mainly non-football members, as well as private, faith-based schools up and down the west coast. The WCC currently sits at 10 members, and adding one more wouldn't be optimal — for scheduling purposes, either stay at 10 or add two more and move to 12. Fellow WAC school, Seattle, would fit in well here. Another program, Denver, who will depart the WAC for the Summit League, could also make some sense.
Mountain West Conference
While there is appeal from a geographic standpoint for the Aggies to be included in the MWC, it just isn't happening right now. Certainly not with the Aggie football program trying to get itself off the ground, and not likely as a non-football sport affiliate. This only happens if/when NMSU picks its play up on the football field, which should be the school’s top priority moving forward.
This league has taken a major hit from a competitive standpoint and has essentially become what the Sun Belt used to be — C-USA will add North Texas, Middle Tennessee, Florida Atlantic and Florida International. Western Kentucky doesn't seem far behind either. In that respect, it could be a darkhorse conference for the Aggies, although some things work against them: For one, would the conference be interested in adding NMSU as a non-football member? For another, it's long believed by Aggie faithful that UTEP would be opposed to entering the same conference as their regional rival. With that, ironically, if the Miners ever defected from Conference USA, it would take away a bargaining chip NMSU has: Being convenient travel partners with their I-10 rivals. Some road blocks and hurdles that have yet to be cleared.
Not the most appealing option. The Summit League is essentially the Western Athletic Conference's counterpart: It's added Denver from the WAC, but in turn lost Missouri-Kansas City, in what could have amounted to a trade between respective leagues. Schools such as Fort Wayne, IUPUI, Western Illinois, South Dakota State and Oakland (Mich.) don't provide the brand necessary for the Aggies to make a jump. From a stability standpoint, it's wouldn’t be considered an upgrade either.
Big Sky Conference/Southland Conference
Don't even go here. While it could work to a degree from a competitive standpoint (Big Sky) or fit geographically (Southland) these two conferences play in the Football Championship Subdivision. As long as they carry that brand, the Aggies should avoid membership, if for no other reason than it's one step closer to FCS football.
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