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January 19, 2013In the turbulent air of current college athletics, the Lobos have found a comfortable home - at least for now.
With nothing being guaranteed for long in big-time NCAA play, the Mountain West Conference has had a great run recently.
And it all benefits the Lobos.
First, Boise State decided to stay with the conference on Dec. 31, leaving one of the best football schools in the west as a member. The Broncos left the struggling and once-prestigious Big East high and dry in a football-only agreement.
That left the door open for San Diego State to do the same on Wednesday. The Aztecs enacted a no-fee clause in their relocation agreement that stated they could stay put if they had no other competition west of the Rocky Mountains (Boise). The MWC athletic directors and presidents voted to approve the move also Wednesday.
So the MWC stays intact with 12 football schools in the fall, including the addition of San Jose State and Utah State. The league is also considering forming two divisions with a championship game.
Said MWC Commissioner Craig Thompson: "I'm elated with our 12-team lineup. We got the band back together."
The league added a basketball encore to the football show. As the Lobos (16-2) march through a successful hoops season, undefeated in the league (3-0), the conference is gaining a national reputation. The MWC was No. 3 in the country in the Ratings Percentage Index (RPI) as of Wednesday. It was led by UNM at No. 12. SDSU followed at 15. In all, the conference had its top six teams place in the top 35 of the RPI, the NCAA indicator of league strength.
Those six teams were 77-16 overall before Wednesday. It's reason to take notice. It's also reason to think that the MWC will again be a multi-bid league in the NCAA tournament. It also means the league is going to beat itself up (Wednesday's games are Exhibit A).
"We've beaten the programs that have been long-standing pillars in the national rankings," said Aztecs head coach Steve Fisher, whose team is ranked 15th by the Associated Press. "And when you do that, you get respect."
After escaping Boise with a 79-74 overtime win on Wednesday, the 19th-ranked Lobos meet Colorado State (Jan. 23) and then Fisher's Aztecs (Jan. 26).
It's exciting time for UNM and the MWC. And as of this week, the league has never been stronger.
New Mexico NEWS