DENVER — The Mountain West Conference has begun informal conversations with universities that might be left out in the shake-up of the college football landscape.
In addition to the league's talks with schools from the Big 12 and Big East that might be excluded in conference realignment, Mountain West commissioner Craig Thompson has had conversations with Conference USA commissioner Britton Banowsky about a football merger.
Such a union would create a super conference with at least 22 teams in two divisions stretching from Hawaii to the East Coast.
"You don't want to be left standing in a position that doesn't best drive you," Thompson told the Associated Press on Tuesday. "You just want to put your membership in the best light possible. If that includes adding people, if that includes the creative consolidation conversation with Conference USA you just want to be building the best stage for your members."
With the Big East's shake-up, Thompson would be receptive to keeping TCU in the Mountain West beyond its scheduled departure after this season if school officials have second thoughts about joining a league that lost Syracuse and Pittsburgh to the Atlantic Coast Conference this week.
With Texas and Oklahoma considering moves to the Pac-12, Thompson is keeping an eye on any schools that might be left over from a possible breakup of the Big 12.
That could include Kansas, Kansas State, Baylor, Iowa State and Missouri, schools that also would likely be courted by a reconstituted Big East, among other leagues.
No invitations have been extended from the Mountain West, which lost Utah and BYU this season as the Utes bolted for the Pac-12 and the Cougars became an independent in football and joined the West Coast Conference for all other sports.
The Mountain West added Boise State this year, and next year will bring in Hawaii (in football only), Nevada and Fresno State.
"If in the worst case there's a 10-team Mountain West Conference in August 2012, that's not a terrible place to be," Thompson said. "But are there better options? That's what we're trying to determine."
Thompson said he's spoken with his counterpart at C-USA many times about merging football leagues. Should a plan be hatched, each conference would play separate schedules with the winners meeting in a title game.
A larger conference could give the Mountain West more leverage to garner an automatic BCS berth. As it stands now, the Mountain West will know after this year whether it has qualified or needs to seek a waiver and get approval by a 75 percent majority of the BCS oversight committee members to obtain automatic status for the 2012-13 season.