FARGO — As realignment continues to turn college football conferences upside down, North Dakota State continues to wait for a phone call in the latest round of expansion talk.

While commissioner Craig Thompson told the media last week that the Mountain West Conference had talked with schools interested in potentially joining the Football Bowl Subdivision league, Bison athletic director Matt Larsen told me NDSU wasn't one of those schools.

"No," Larsen said, rather emphatically, when I asked him before the Bison-Illinois State football game last Saturday if NDSU had been one of the schools that had talked with the Mountain West recently.

Sigh. At this rate, NDSU will never achieve my goal for them of getting out of the Football Championship Subdivision and into the FBS.

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My reporter's skepticism/instinct tells me NDSU and the Mountain West have talked at some point — maybe not in the last several months, but at some point — but if that's happened nobody's talking. At least not to me.

We do know this: At least one person who sits on the MWC expansion committee brought up NDSU's name one time in one meeting. That much has been reported.

Other than that, it doesn't seem like the MWC is knocking down NDSU's door.

This despite Thompson saying openly that the Mountain West is actively "studying its options" when it comes to expansion.

"We’re really just looking at the landscape and debating what expansion would mean for the Mountain West Conference," Thompson said last week, according to media reports. "If it’s something that makes sense for us, we’ll look at that. But really, I’m defining it as we’re studying our options."

Thompson said Mountain West ADs and other administrators have been talking regularly about conference realignment.

"It’s an ongoing, literally daily, conversation that we've had with a number of institutions that are presenting a case that they would have an interest in joining the Mountain West Conference," Thompson said, according to reports. He didn’t identify any of the schools involved in those conversations.

I have asked Larsen a few times since the conference realignment wheel started turning last summer if the Mountain West had contacted NDSU or vice versa and the answer each time has been no. Most recently before Saturday was when The Athletic's college football writer Chris Vanninni reported "some people in the MWC have pointed to North Texas, Rice and UTSA as potential additions if the conference wants to reach into Texas, while also pointing to North Dakota State if on-field football success is more important."

I wrote in December that it was time for NDSU explore the possibility of moving to FBS if the opportunity presented itself. I called the Bison moving up a level a "moonshot" and will stick by that label. So many things would have to happen for NDSU to join college football's highest division as a Group of Five league member that it's difficult to put the chances of it happening very high.

It doesn't help that NDSU president Dean Bresciani is a lame duck, essentially fired by the state Board of Higher Education and only holding his job until a replacement can be found.

But if there's a time an invitation to an FBS conference comes, this might be it. There is so much volatility among conferences that the Mountain West just might eventually make a phone call.

The MWC has 11 full members — Air Force, Boise State, CSU, Fresno State, Nevada, New Mexico, San Diego State, San Jose State, UNLV, Utah State and Wyoming. It has one football-only member in Hawaii.

Some major news broke this week that might benefit the Bison, if their goal is a MWC invitation.


The American Athletic Conference, a Group of Five league, will extend invitations to six schools in a bold move to expand, according to a story broken by Yahoo Sports. The AAC will add Florida Atlantic, Charlotte, North Texas, Texas-San Antonio, Rice and Alabama-Birmingham.

All those schools are currently in Conference USA, another G5 league.

This is important to the Mountain West because the league reportedly was looking to expand into Texas, an important recruiting hotbed with major television markets, and was believed to be courting Rice, North Texas and USTA.

But the AAC's move effectively blocked the MWC from Texas, leaving only Conference USA's Texas-El Paso and the Sun Belt Conference's Texas State as the only FBS schools not in a major conference or the AAC. If the Mountain West wants to expand — or backfill programs that might leave for greener pastures like Boise State and San Diego State — it no longer has attractive options in the Lone Star State.

Given there aren't many FBS options for expansion in the West, that might make NDSU more attractive.

Conference realignment isn't finished yet. How the Mountain West and other G5 leagues like Conference USA and the Sun Belt respond remains worth watching.