Santoro: End times for Mountain West football?

Mountain West football helmets are shown at a past conference media event. The conference has agreed to a scheduling arrangement with the ‘Pac-2’ for 2024.

Mountain West football helmets are shown at a past conference media event. The conference has agreed to a scheduling arrangement with the ‘Pac-2’ for 2024.
Photo by Duke Ritenhouse.

Sports Fodder:

Are we witnessing the final days of Mountain West football as we know it?

The Nevada Wolf Pack’s conference home since 2012 might be in a state of transition next fall, though nobody will admit it to your face.

The Biggest Little Conference in the World (or is it The Last Little Conference in the World?) recently announced that each of its dozen football programs will play one of the two Pac-12 leftovers (Oregon State or Washington State) in the 2024 season.

That so-called non-league game will replace a game on the schedule against an official Mountain West team, leaving each school with just seven league games next year. The Mountain West labeled this hastily created scheduling decision the “7 plus 1 model,” you know, like it is a real thing and not just the blatant money grab that it is.

All it does is cheapen the meaning of Mountain West football. Oregon State and Washington State, the two schools nobody except the Mountain West wants, will each play six games against Mountain West teams (just one fewer than, say, the Nevada Wolf Pack) next year but none of those games will count toward qualifying for the Mountain West title game.

So, yes, we could have Oregon State and Washington State each going 6-0 against Mountain West teams while, say, Boise State and Fresno State each go 5-2 against Mountain West teams and play in the league’s title game.

Wait, it gets even better and more sad. Oregon State and Washington State will also play each other in 2024 so one of those two schools could go 7-0 in fake Mountain West games (you know, in the old, time-tested “6 Plus Oregon State or Washington State” model) and not play for the league title.

But wait, it gets even more ridiculous and sadder than that. Washington State will also play San Jose State next year in addition to its six “official’’ games against Mountain West teams because that game was already part of its non-league schedule.

Washington State, therefore, will actually play seven games against Mountain West teams and also play Oregon State (in the traditional 6 Plus San Jose State Plus Oregon State model), giving it eight unofficial Mountain West games next year. The Cougars, in theory, could go 8-0 against those eight unofficial Mountain West opponents and won’t play in the Mountain West title game while a two or three-loss official Mountain West team wins the league trophy.

The Hawaii Bowl will have more meaning than the Mountain West title game if that happens.

This whole thing is contrived, confusing and convoluted. But wait, do you really want your head to explode? Well, consider the fact that San Jose State next year will play both Oregon State and Washington State and its seven official Mountain West opponents in a “7 Plus 2” model, leaving it with a conference-record nine league games.

But, of course, we are not surprised by all of this Mountain West sloppiness and sleight of hand. Mountain West football, after all, only truly exists as a bake sale sport to help pay for all of its other sports. Why else would the Mountain West prostitute its dozen football teams with this silly “7 Plus One” model? It’s because you can’t sell enough pies and muffins to pay all of your bills these days.

This is just the first step on the path toward the end of Mountain West football as we have come to ignore it. So, this year, when you see Oregon State or Washington State on the schedule, consider your favorite Mountain West football team like a little, innocent puppy licking the feet of the Pac-12 Leftover Coyote that is about to eat it alive.


Washington State and Oregon State have been allowed to keep their Pac-12 conference name for the next two years. After that, well, they have to find at least six more teams to form a real conference and keep the once-respected name.

There’s no way, of course, Oregon State and Washington State want to blend into the abyss known as the Mountain West. Oh, sure, they’ll play Mountain West teams for half the season because they need games and easy wins.

But there’s no way those once-proud Pac-12 schools will slap a Mountain West patch on their jerseys. Think of it like the guy who is driving a beaten up, dented, rusted out old Cadillac that has been repaired with Ford, Subaru and Chevy parts. That Cadillac name plate is still proudly on the fender even if the only thing truly Cadillac about that car now is the two inches of rust.

Washington State and Oregon State, everyone but those good folks in Corvallis and Pullman knows, are now frauds. They should be the puppies kissing the feet of the Mountain West coyotes now. They will continue to lose recruits (and real coaches and NIL dollars) because reality tells us that those two schools are now dying on the vine like last summer’s tomatoes.

But, for some reason, it’s the Mountain West that is acting like naïve, innocent puppies toward the Pac-12 leftover coyotes. The Mountain West needs to have more self-respect than that. It is the real conference in this scenario. Oregon State and Washington State, the emperors with no actual clothes, are now the ones begging for games, not the Mountain West.

Why not let Oregon State and Washington State fend for themselves and scramble to fill out their schedule in 2024, leaving them scrawny, weak and hungry and begging to join the Mountain West in a year?


The only real question that remains now is which Mountain West teams will Oregon State and Washington State steal to form the new Pac-8 (or Pac-10 or Pac-12) in two years? That’s why this season, with its bogus “7 Plus 1” model, is nothing more than a shameless audition for Mountain West teams.

Think of all those games against Oregon State and Washington State as something along the lines of a Debutante Ball or Coming Out Party. The Mountain West presidents are going to parade their teenaged football programs in front of the two remaining entitled Pac-2 boys and their millionaire families with the hope of getting a marriage proposal.

Hey, Oregon State and Washington State, you want to marry our football teams? Well, dance nicely, be polite, dress well and don’t try any funny business and maybe, just maybe, we’ll all get lucky.

Who would Oregon State and Washington State want from the Mountain West to form a new Pac-8, Pac-10 or Pac-12? Well, of course, Boise State. Everybody wants Boise State even if Boise State is no longer the young, cute, alluring and beautiful Boise State anymore.

UNLV would also be nice because of its fancy stadium and bright lights. Fresno State has fans, a decent budget and takes the sport seriously. San Jose State is also in the Bay area even if, of course, the Bay Area doesn’t know it.

Colorado State has the Denver market. Sort of. Air Force, of course, gives any conference an air of respect, dignity and easy basketball wins. Utah State has the Salt Lake market and a nice central location. San Diego State, the one who started flirting with the old Pac-12 last year, has the Southern California market and a nice zoo.

That’s eight teams, giving Oregon State and Washington State enough teams to form a new league and keep its cherished Pac-10 or Pac-12 title even if it is built with Ford and Chevy parts.

But what about Nevada, Hawaii, Wyoming and New Mexico? Does anybody want them? Well, you know what they say about asking questions you don’t really want the answer to. Keep quiet and don’t ask them.

Nevada has no market outside the McCarran Circle to speak of. On some weekends it has no market a foot or two off campus.

Nobody wants Hawaii because of the travel costs. New Mexico is a Division II program in disguise and Wyoming, well, Laramie is still quite content and proud to be stuck in some sort of 1956 Marilyn Monroe in “Bus Stop” rodeo-centric fantasy land. That doesn’t play anywhere where Cowboy boots aren’t worn on your wedding day.

That leaves a Mountain West in two years or so that includes Nevada, New Mexico, Hawaii, Wyoming and some collection of FCS castoffs as the leftover Pac-2 coyotes drag off the ravaged carcass of what was once known as The Biggest Little Conference in the World.


Another Pack football player (offensive lineman Joey Capra) has jumped into the transfer portal. That makes six ex-Pack players to seek college football fame and fortune elsewhere (the first five were Dion Washington, Jonathan Thomas, Richard Toney, Isaiah Essissima and Marquese Allen-Patmon).

There are probably others but, you know, who really is concerned? Finding players is not that difficult.

Nobody, of course, gets all that worked up over losing anyone that was part of a 4-20 program over the last two years. Players come, players go, players now have no true loyalty to their schools unless those schools play and pay them.

That’s college football now. Thank you, ESPN.

But don’t blame the players. Players, don’t forget, are just three or four decades late to that selfish college football dinner table. Coaches started eating at that table and blatantly stuffing their faces about the time cable TV (thank you, ESPN) started pumping serious money into the sport three and four decades ago.

Nobody, though, really blames the coaches and the players. But everyone, including those players and coaches, now blames the fans.

Universities, university presidents, athletic directors and coaches (and players when they aren’t on social media) complain that the community doesn’t support them like it should. How can a guy get serious NIL money when there is just 7,000 people in the stands, for goodness’ sake. That blame-the-community complaint, if you listen closely, has become an official verse of Home Means Nevada.

Why would communities, especially now when everyone is gouged at every turn (especially at the ticket windows of mediocre college football programs) support these carpet-bagger players and coaches when they are not successful? What does the fan get out of supporting a losing, lifeless program other than less money to spend on such things as food, heat and shelter?

If players and coaches believe they are entitled to stop caring about their school whenever they prefer, why shouldn’t the community get the same entitlement?

College sports are now tiresome for fans when the teams they love are losing, boring and the punchline to a joke. Fans are understandably becoming tired, exhausted and frustrated of being taken for granted financially and then criticized for never doing enough for all those selfish players and coaches.

We used to love the players, good and bad, for playing their hearts out for the love of their school and an education. Now these guys don’t even play in bowl games when it isn’t financially beneficial. And they’ll leave town for even the hint of more NIL money.

Fan apathy is the price for all of that player-coach selfishness. Get used to it. Win or shut up.


New Pack football coach Jeff Choate announced the hiring of new defensive coordinator Kane Ioane and wide receivers and quarterbacks coach David Gilbertson this week.

We’re sure they are both fine coaches until, of course, they prove not to be. But did Choate truly look for the best defensive coordinator and quarterback coach he could find?

Of course he didn’t. Choate, like most every new head coach, just hired his buddies. He knew Ioane from Montana State and Gilbertson from Washington State.

Ken Wilson did the same buddy-system thing and went 4-20 and when he was fired, he declared, “I have no regrets.”

Of course he doesn’t. Coaches these days never have regrets. They do nothing wrong and never will. It’s called making seven figures a year. Wilson hired his friends, those friends let him down, but now that he’s not a head coach anymore and can’t make new friends as easily, he wants to keep his old friends. So, he has no regrets. He has seven figures a year to say he’s right.

We’re sure Choate will hire more of his friends to fill out his staff in the coming weeks. You see, it’s not about hiring the best coaches available for each position. It’s about hiring the best friend available looking for work.

It’s how these coaches keep getting new jobs even after they prove to be mediocre at what they do. You can then go 4-20 and have no regrets because at least everyone can say you remained loyal to your friends in the end.

It’s honorable. Yes, it’s horrible for the fans who get criticized for not supporting the program enough but, hey, nobody cares about fans who don’t part with part of their paychecks.

We have faith that Choate’s friends will be better coaches than Wilson’s friends. It at least sounds like he does. It’s part of his cartoon character charm and how he got this million-dollar job in the first place after answering a few questions over a Zoom call a few weekends ago.


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