SPOKANE, Wash. — The Mountain West Conference needs a new game plan.
The mission? To break through college football and basketball's ironclad lock on the money vault.
In football, the BCS schools have the combination to the safe. This past week, many of the same faces proved that they are gatekeepers to the NCAA tournament and have little if any respect for the little league that tries but can't.
At the end of BYU's loss to UConn here on Thursday, MWC commissioner Craig Thompson left the arena for the airport. He flew directly to Salt Lake City, got picked up by a University of Utah car and driver and arrived at the Huntsman Center in time to see feisty Colorado State lose to Duke. On Friday, he could see it on any TV set in America: Utah beat Oregon despite one-fourth the team fouling out.
The MWC opens up 1-2.
But the bigger question in the wake of Utah's win over the Ducks is why did the Utes have to play a first-round game against the Pac-10 tournament champion?
Think about it. Why?
Sure, the Utes won, but why the Ducks before Kentucky?
Slip Utah, BYU, CSU or Weber State a seed break, get them into the second round, and there's money to be made. Heck, Utah State scared the living daylights out of Kansas.
"We're going to have to sit down and rethink our strategy and find some answers," Thompson said. "We've got to talk to a lot of people, our own people and come up with a plan because what we tried to do this year simply didn't get us respect."
You can argue NCAA seeds and selection picks all day and make arguments on both sides, but any way you slice it, the MWC deserved to have Utah seeded lower than No. 9. BYU could have used a break or two, going from a 12 seed to an eight or a nine.
Seeding at the Big Dance is crucial. It opens the way to at least first-round wins and that leads to accumulation of "units," which add up in future years as the NCAA divvies out it's $6 billion purse, part of the TV contract with CBS Sports.
For getting three MWC teams in the dance, the league will receive $1.04 million. In a few weeks, BYU, Utah and CSU will receive checks for $100,000 for making the tournament. Added to that will be one-eighth of the remaining part of the league's $1.04 million.
When the MWC started, it was lucky to get an automatic NCAA berth for its tournament champ. Its bolt from the WAC forced the new MWC members to forfeit $10 million in NCAA revenue earned over time.
Now, five years later, three teams were invited. That's progress. But beefed up schedules, high RPIs and increased exposure by the ESPN Monday package isn't buying any more respect than we saw this past week. Counting pennies and nickels will take a long time to add up to the stack of dead presidents the big leagues are receiving every year.
We know the BCS is a closed club. Is the NCAA tournament the same? Should Big Sky champ Weber State have to play the Big Ten champion Wisconsin?
In the MWC, what it gets down to is wins. BYU should have beaten Oklahoma State, San Francisco and Creighton and then a higher seed may have been rewarded. Utah could have helped its cause by sweeping ASU and not bowing to New Mexico, Colorado State and UNLV down the wire.
In football, BYU is going to have to defeat teams like Georgia Tech, Syracuse, Stanford and the like when it gets the chance. Simple as that. There is no margin for error in this respect business.
At least with the BCS and football, you already knew the bias was there. This week in hoops, Thompson and company got a wake-up call: The same group holds the key to this playground, too.