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Kaitlynn Biassou spiked a ball past the opposing team's defense at Johnson Gym on Saturday, Oct. 29.

What is going on with college athletic conference realignments?

Listed to improve athlete welfare, the athletics department Research and Public Service Projects Funding request was increased by $3.5 million from last year. This increase comes amidst conversations about the potential realignment of the Mountain West Conference.

“With the recent changes in membership composition in several conferences, the Mountain West is exploring all opportunities to strengthen the league, including through the addition of new member schools,” MWC Board of Directors statement from Aug. 9 reads, which President Garnett Stokes serves as the chair of.

The MWC is one of 10 NCAA Division I Football Bowl Subdivision conferences with some independent programs. Its uncertain future follows the reorganization of the Pacific 12 Conference, now left with four teams.

In 2022, University of California, Los Angeles and University of Southern California left the Pac-12 for the Big 10 Conference. Since July 2023, six more schools have followed suit, heading to either the Big 10 or the Big 12, according to CBS.

Now, the MWC can attempt to recruit the Pac-12’s remaining teams — UC Berkeley, Stanford, Oregon State and Washington State — or merge with them and create a new conference. No official decision has been made yet.

“With the recent changes in membership composition in several conferences, the Mountain West is exploring all opportunities to strengthen the league, which could include the addition of new member schools,” Stokes said in a statement to the Daily Lobo.

Athletic conferences determine where college teams travel for. If schools in the conference are further east or west, that extends travel time rather than if they are in neighboring states. With the current MWC members, University of New Mexico Women’s Volleyball player Elizabeth Woods said these trips have not affected her academic life.

“With our traveling scheduling, I do not miss any important dates for class,” Woods wrote.

UNM Women’s Basketball alumni Kathelijne van Bennekom said traveling for athletics often caused time management and mental health challenges. 

“Most of the student athletes experienced signs of exhaustion and were just overall stressed out about the workload that was waiting for them as soon as they got back from travel,” van Bennekom wrote. 

The total RPSP request for Athletics is just short of $12 million, more than double FY 2022’s $4,436,200 and almost double FY 2023’s $6,188,600.

At the most recent Board of Regents meeting on Aug. 10, Regent Jack Fortner called the amount of travel that could take place with realignment “crazy” when posing a question to Stokes.

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“I just wonder how flying from Oregon to the East Coast prioritizes, student priorities as you look at these conference realignments. It is just unheard of to travel across the country (at this rate). Normally it happens once, but it will happen four or five times to these students,” Fortner said.

Stokes responded to Fortner, speaking about the revenue - based decisions from schools.

“It is remarkable the impact of revenue on some of the decisions that institutions are making. I am proud to have the University of New Mexico be a member of the Mountain West Conference with our focus on student welfare,” Stokes said.

Expansion of the MWC could mean further traveling for student-athletes, which would mean missing more classes. Professor of history, Paul Hutton, said he works to support the student-athletes he teaches.

“They always need accommodations because of travel,” Hutton said. “I’ll have my teacher assistants give them notes for the classes they missed and if we need to help them with review sessions, we do.”

Football brings in 80% of the MWC revenue, according to Frank Mercogliano, Assistant Athletic Director of Communications. Football only has one game a week, unlike lower revenue-generating sports like baseball or golf which play weekend-long series.

Many student-athletes began their athletic careers in high school, Hutton said, in hopes of gaining college scholarships. UNM’s projected athletic scholarship cost for 2023-24 was $6.7 million, according to the Lobo Scholarship Fund.

“Academically, the athletic department is really on these kids and forces them — in a way that the rest of the student body isn’t forced — to work on their schoolwork,” Hutton said.

The MWC has a Student-Athlete Advisory Committee whose mission is to “enhance the quality of life for student-athletes and to promote a positive student-athlete image both on and off campus.” The committee includes three student-athlete members from different schools, playing gymnastics, cross-country and track and field.  Currently, none of these members are UNM students.

Media networks like FOX and ESPN have played a big role in the addition of teams to the Big 10 and Southeastern conferences. When joining a new conference, teams receive funds from their respective networks as payment for broadcasting rights. While MWC does have media rights agreements with CBS and FOX to stream basketball and football games, they also have their own television network, The Mtn.

The MWC’s contract with CBS and FOX gives members $4 million each year, according to Sports Pro Media. The combined revenue for the Southeastern conference- which had a media rights deal with CBS in 2021-22 that totaled almost $50 million per school.

“Suffice it to say that at the present time - the Mountain West is a stable 12 team conference which has media rights agreements with CBS and FOX until 2026,” The MWC Deputy Commissioner Bret Gilliland said.

The UNM Athletics Department Director Eddie Nuñez did not comment directly upon the future of the MWC. At this stage, Nuñez also did not respond to questions about the potential impact on student-athletes.

“As always, we as a department will strive to be the very best we can be and do things the right way on the field and in the classroom in order to always put the University in the best possible position for success,” Mercogliano said.

The future of conference realignment could be decided at any time, but would not impact this year’s schedule as schools need to finish their current contracts.

Lily Alexander is a freelance reporter at the Daily Lobo. She can be contacted at or on Twitter @llilyalexander

Maddie Pukite is the editor-in-chief at the Daily Lobo. They can be contacted at or on Twitter @maddogpukite

Lily Alexander

 Lily Alexander is the news editor for the Daily Lobo. She can be reached at or on Twitter @llilyalexander 

Maddie Pukite

Maddie Pukite is the 2023-2024 editor of the Daily Lobo. 

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