So we talked about how the Idaho Vandals didn't seem like a good fit for the Sun Belt conference, even as a football-only member, beyond 2017. I began penning this article to discuss how the New Mexico State Aggies belonged, and then the conference crapped all over that notion by voting to terminate both memberships after the current contract expired.
I'm still pissed at the Sun Belt Conference's repeated mentions of how they would individually vote on March 10th regarding the future of each team, only to reveal on March 1st that they had already decided a week earlier, and without any formal vote at that. We'll discuss that another time.
It was probably inevitable that NMSU would get the axe this time around, as the Vandals were a horrible fit and the Aggies were, for better or worse, inextricably linked as their de facto travel partner and "soul mate." The recent poor play on the football field didn't help, but I imagine that linkage doomed them either way.
That being said, not only do the Aggies belong in the SBC, they belong to the extent that they should get offered full conference membership sometime in the near future, as soon as the Sun Belt finds a balancing member for them to accompany.
When it comes to the Vandals, you have both an athletics department at large and a football program that have a substantial history of success, but very little of it recently - by which I mean "near enough to today that any current student was born when it happened." The Aggies have a bit less success, especially in the historical category.
You can view that either way. Some people would prefer to bring aboard a program with a lengthy list of successes, even if most of them aren't immediate; they would rather point to a trophy case full of old trophies than have no case at all.
Others would argue that less success means less precedent to try and follow, which gives you the chance to mold your program in whatever image you like without having the expectations of athletes, alumni and boosters of days past breathing down your neck.
The good news for New Mexico State is that they may be devoid of historical success - prior to 1985 all they had to their name was eight conference championships for the men's basketball team from their Border Conference heyday - but they have a notable amount of recent success.
The men's basketball team just clinched NMSU's 46th regular-season conference title since 1985 across all sports, and the 31st in the last 15 years. That's no small matter and is a great way to demonstrate that while the upward trajectory of the athletics department may not have spread into the football program just yet, there is definitely a very recent and significant positive trend to point towards.
When we talked about Idaho, we showed you that university and athletics administration don't seem to have a clear preference when it comes to the exact path their football future takes, be it FBS (with or without a conference) or FCS. The Aggies instead are most certainly of a strong mind to fully shift their athletics from the WAC to the Sun Belt.
This is readily evident in what they presented to the Sun Belt conference presidents. While the University of Idaho presented a lot of cherry-picked numbers that primarily focused on their not being the worst football team in the conference and trying to downplay travel concerns, New Mexico State was more forward-thinking.
The Aggies presented data on how both the athletics department as a whole and the football team specifically have taken specific measures to boost spending, improve facilities, and improve attendance at these new facilities for their sports. They acknowledged the struggles the team has had in the recent past, and how that has affected their progress to date, but also pointed to what they have done to address those issues (changes in recruiting style, for instance).
I consider this to be an athletic director, in Mario Moccia, who has a clear idea of where he is trying to steer his ship. He is well aware of how and why the football team has struggled in the past - as well as why the success or failure of the football team specifically matters so much. He is fully cognizant of the hole the team has long been stuck in, and he has begun construction on multiple sizes and shapes of ladders in the hopes of crawling out.
Speaking of various shapes and sizes of ladders, let's return to that basketball team, shall we? One thing any conference should strive for is to improve their overall profile, and what better way to achieve that than by adding a New Mexico State men's basketball program that is two wins away from going to the NCAA Tournament for the sixth year in a row? The women's team is on pace to also make a repeat trip to the tournament.
The ability to add a program like that, which gives you an outside shot at the exposure and revenue that come with multiple tournament games, cannot be overlooked. It goes beyond basketball though. Of those 31 conference titles the Aggies have won since 2000, seventeen of them have been since 2010. If you are going to stabilize your conference, what better way than to fully incorporate an athletics department that is producing winning sports teams across the board and can provide you with greater national exposure in the process?