San Diego State University’s Independent Student Newspaper Since 1913

The Daily Aztec

San Diego State University’s Independent Student Newspaper Since 1913

The Daily Aztec

San Diego State University’s Independent Student Newspaper Since 1913

The Daily Aztec

Once more up the mountain: Aztecs remain competitive in Mountain West

Despite rumors of a power conference invitation, SDSU is well positioned to continue their championship tradition in the MWC
Noelani Sapla
The Aztec men’s basketball team hoists the 2022-23 Mountain West trophy following the win over Wyoming on March 4.

San Diego State fans can be forgiven if the excitement following a historic year, and in various news reports, made it seem like an invitation from a power conference was on the way.

Instead, the Aztecs watched from the outside as the Pac-12 got picked apart. Colorado, Arizona, Arizona State and Utah left for the Big 12, while Oregon and Washington bolted to join USC and UCLA in the Big Ten beginning in the 2024-2025 season.

By virtue of standing pat, they are in what now is the lone majority-west coast FBS conference.

SDSU remains a member of the Mountain West for the 2023-2024 season, and will likely have to wait until after next year to make a move… If it’s still being considered. So the Aztecs — with the most championships amongst current members — are once again ready to begin the climb to return to the peak of the conference.

One thing’s for certain: SDSU will be in a position to compete for multiple titles this season. If they continue to succeed as they historically have, the Aztecs will be every bit as valuable if a potential power conference option presents itself in the future.

Take for example the women’s soccer team, which finished two points back of the conference regular season championship last year and advanced to the tournament semifinals.

The dynamic duo of redshirt-junior forward Emma Gaines-Ramos and junior midfielder Denise Castro are back. Both are top-three points producers and top-four goal scorers amongst all Mountain West returners.

Six of the players that started every game last season return for the Aztecs, including Gaines-Ramos, Carlin Blake, Kiera Utush, Trinity Coker, Grace Goins and Alexa Madueno.

Football has a host of experience in the secondary with six players who started last season returning, including interception leader Dallas Branch and top pass breakup man Dez Malone.

Adding to the intrigue will be how the offense operates under the direction of former Aztec quarterback Ryan Lindley in his first year as offensive coordinator. Jalen Mayden returns as the starting quarterback with three of the top five wide receivers in catches and four of the top six receiving yard producers back. The offensive line has three starters returning and two of the top three running backs in carries and net yards return as well.

Volleyball has an air of excitement after running off wins in six of its final nine matches to reach the conference tournament, advancing to the semifinals and upsetting No. 3 seed Colorado State.

Four of the six players that started in 20 or more matches return, including kills-per-set leaders Madison Corf and Julia Haynie, who was a top attacking-percentage hitter. Elly Schraeder is the returning leader in blocked serves and blocked attacks, averaging better than a block per set.

Still, there was a lingering sense as recently as at Mountain West football media days in July that this current setup is just a stopgap.

After all, SDSU had been hearing for months now that an invitation from the Pac-12 was seemingly in the offing. The Dan Patrick Show reported this topic last November, and as of April, SDSU Athletic Director John David Wicker was quoted saying that an invite to either the Pac-12 or Big 12 was “going to happen,” according to Seth Davis of The Athletic.

Then, when the Pac-12 presented a potential media rights deal with Apple to the tune of around $20 million per school for a streaming-only package in early August, the exodus was on. The Big 12 had inked a new deal with ESPN and Fox last October, which is set to pay its members at least $31.6 million per school yearly on average, according to Yahoo Sports.

The difference between a spot in the Mountain West and a power conference is big for the SDSU program — not only in terms of prestige but also financially.

According to the San Diego Union-Tribune, SDSU’s media rights distribution share from the Mountain West for the 2022-2023 season was $6.6 million.

A lingering question now is what happens to the remaining four teams under the Pac-12 banner. Stanford and California have drawn interest due to their powerhouse academics, while the future for Oregon State and Washington State remains far less clear.

This latest round of realignment has been messy, breaking up one of the historic conferences which was home to programs with more NCAA team sports championships than anywhere else. It was aspirational for the Aztecs to join the Pac-12, but the experiences of the past year have proven to be a cautionary tale.

The whole process has highlighted all the moving parts the athletics department has been weighing, and why Wicker has had the same statement since mid-June regarding SDSU’s stance on realignment.

“As there has been a large amount of discussion about conference realignment nationally, we continue to do our due diligence to identify the best opportunity and fit in the interest of both our university and our student-athletes.”

It just so happened that this time around, the current best opportunity and fit for SDSU is still the Mountain West.

For fans on the Mesa, that means more competition for conference championships going forward and ample opportunity for the Aztecs to make more noise nationally.

About the Contributors
Eric Evelhoch, '23-24 Sports Editor
Eric Evelhoch (he/him/his) is a senior media studies major who was born outside of Detroit, Michigan, and lived in Ventura County, California, for a decade-plus. He is a returning college student and transfer from Santa Barbara City College, where he served as Sports Editor for The Channels. Evelhoch is also a Sports Director for KCR College Radio, where he restarted play-by-play coverage post-pandemic. Currently, he serves as the play-by-play broadcaster for the SDSU ACHA DI hockey team and has filled in on the call for Aztecs sports on the Mountain West Network. His prior freelance experience includes print, digital, online video and audio-only, and broadcast radio formats covering football, basketball, baseball, hockey, soccer and volleyball.
Noelani Sapla, Staff Photographer, '21-22 Photo Editor
Born and raised in San Diego, Noelani is a graduate student at San Diego State University working towards a masters degree in education. She joined the Daily Aztec staff as the photo editor for the 2021-2022 year, and is currently a staff photographer. She credits the Daily Aztec for the experience and opportunities to cover the NCAA tournament in Houston where the men's basketball team played in the national championship game. While having a degree in education and teaching, Noelani's dream is to become a professional sports photographer.