Mountain West media days: college football playoff changes

Despite the wave of college football conference realignment crashing through the country again, Mountain West Commissioner Craig Thompson said Wednesday at media days that the league is in no hurry to make a change, but it is prepared.

“We don’t have to do anything,” Thompson said. “We’re a solid 12-team league, and we had the most successful year on the field and on the courts in about a decade.”

USC and UCLA sparked the latest shift in the college football landscape when they announced plans to leave the Pac-12 for the Big Ten. That led to a long list of questions. Will the Pac-12 look to the Big 12 or Group of Five to add to its ranks? Will it merge with other leagues to form a super conference? Will it fall apart?

The Mountain West was left to wonder about realignment last year as well, when Texas and Oklahoma announced they were going to leave the Big 12 for the SEC, triggering a domino effect. BYU, Cincinnati, Houston and UCF all accepted invitations to join the Big 12. The American Athletic Conference then added to its ranks by taking from Conference USA, which was also forced to add new members.

Thompson said conference leaders have explored adding teams, and he said more than six schools reached out to express interest. He did not name them.

But the commissioner said the conference isn’t going to add teams just to keep the league at 12, if it were to lose some schools. He said it has to be the right fit.

“Geography is always going to be important to the Mountain West,” Thompson said. “But with the TV revenue chase being on the forefront of all of this, being bigger doesn’t mean you’re more valuable and your media rights increase.”

Thompson said he’s had conversations with CBS and Fox about the possibility of renegotiating the conference’s current media rights deal. He said it’s possible because of a conference composition clause in the contract.

“I’ve talked to our board of directors about what can be done if a school does decide to leave, and the answer is nothing but look into how and if we’re going to replace them,” Thompson said. “We obviously want to play at the highest level that football allows, but we’re in a strong spot.”

College Football Playoff process frustrating

Thompson opened up again at his annual address about how frustrated he is that the Alliance — a group that was formed between the Pac-12, Big Ten and ACC — opposed expansion of the College Football Playoff.

“We came up with a model, presented it, and then it was open for public debate and scrutiny, which was always the plan,” Thompson said. “Some commissioners took umbrage, saying we all should have been part of developing the model.”

Thompson was part of a working group that presented a plan for an expanded playoff, but conference leaders around the country haven’t been able to come to a consensus on the timing of the decision, how many teams should be included or how many leagues would have guaranteed spots.

On Monday, SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey floated the idea that no teams receive automatic bids for winning their conference.

Thompson has spent years advocating for an expanded playoff and said he’s not giving up the fight.

“College football needs an expanded playoff, and I truly hope we have a new format in a few years,” he said.

NIL needs more consistent regulation

Name, Image and Likeness were also on the docket for the commissioner’s annual address.

Almost a year into college football’s NIL era — which allows athletes to be paid — Thompson said he’d like to see the federal government step in to offer more consistent regulation, rather than allowing states the freedom to enact their own rules.

“Maybe (the government) can level the playing field a little bit,” Thompson said. “State laws have been put in place and many have been revised already. We just need more consistent direction.”

The NCAA passed an interim policy that allowed athletes to monetize their name, image and likeness last July, just as many state laws went into effect. The idea was to adopt a more permanent policy.

Instead, schools and states are still setting policies themselves. Texas Tech’s NIL collective recently signed deals that will pay 100 players $25,000 a year. Most players at smaller schools have no chance to get that kind of money.

“Everyone does what they can with the resources they have,” Thompson said. “Our schools have done a good job educating players about NIL, but we just need more regulation.”

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Ron Counts is the Boise State football beat writer for the Idaho Statesman. He’s a Virginia native and covered James Madison University and University of Virginia before joining the Statesman in 2019. Follow him on Twitter: @Ron_BroncoBeat


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