Mountain West takes step to ensure refs play by rules

Before making his annual state-of-the-league news conference, Mountain West Conference commissioner Craig Thompson spent Tuesday morning watching NBA boss David Stern meet the press.

Stern's news conference was much more urgent, addressing the federal investigation into whether former NBA referee Tim Donaghy bet on games he worked -- a scandal that has shaken the league's integrity.

Though Thompson and the Mountain West face no such raging controversy, the conference two years ago began conducting random background checks on its officials. The process has turned up some interesting information but no revelations that warranted any action.

Still, Thompson knows a questionable pass interference call or a pair of shaky fouls could attract more public scrutiny since news of the NBA scandal broke Friday. Some fans might read something more nefarious into what simply are poor calls.

"That's a big concern in all of this," Thompson said. "The fear is 38 free throws versus 12. You hate even the implication. You hate the thought ... that someone is trying to influence the outcome. That's what's scary as all get-out."

UNLV's football team practices within clear view of the Strip, and coach Mike Sanford routinely asks speakers to talk to his players about potential pitfalls of betting.

"We are very proactive as far as educating our athletes and our coaches about the negatives and the issues involved with gambling," Sanford said. "It's a big concern of Mike Hamrick, our athletic director, and it's a big concern of mine."

Junior wide receiver Casey Flair has heard the spiels, but he said the message resonates louder now.

"It makes you question when people come and talk to you," Flair said.

Nevada sports books, because they monitor games so closely and can detect when an unusual amount is bet, have been effective at detecting point-shaving schemes. Thompson said he doesn't have a person in Las Vegas checking line movements but that the NCAA keeps a close watch.

"I know they've got a lot of checks and balances in place," he said. "We would be notified of something like that."

Other Mountain West business addressed by Thompson:

• Despite ongoing negotiations, he doesn't know if The mtn., a regional network devoted to Mountain West sports, will be picked up on satellite.

"I'm not a very good prognosticator," Thompson said.

• Expansion is not on the horizon, even with Boise State's success last season in winning the Fiesta Bowl over Oklahoma.

• The Bowl Championship Series' current format expires in 2010, but Thompson said he wasn't certain that would lead directly to any kind of playoff. And if it did, he wasn't sure it would be beneficial for the Mountain West.

"It is if we're included," Thompson said. "It isn't if they take eight teams and we're the ninth team."