Mountain West commissioner Craig Thompson appeared more relaxed at media days this week than in recent years and perhaps even more confident, too.
Boise State and San Diego State are back. San Jose State and Utah State, football teams coming off 11-win seasons, are in. The conference is packed with top quarterbacks, setting the stage for offensive firepower in what could be an entertaining season.
Thompson, though, knows relaxation is relative and temporary, and commissioners of the Southeastern and Big 12 conferences let it be known in recent days that some serious fights lie ahead.
Big 12 chief Bob Bowlsby fired the biggest warning shot Monday, telling the media the big boys are tired of footing the bills for those struggling to get by and that they want even more say about how college athletics operate.
Bowlsby also made clear that he and the other Big Five commissioners weren’t threatening to leave the NCAA and form their own association, calling such a move “a last resort.”
But those with the most power and money want changes, and Thompson and his brethren at the less-notable conferences better take heed.
“Relative to the legislative process, we are very much at a point now where we can’t get anything that’s transformative through the system,” Bowlsby said. “I think that’s particularly felt by seven or eight conferences and the five major conferences in particular. It is just very difficult to do anything that would benefit our student-athletes or our institutions that doesn’t get voted down by the larger majority.”
Thompson said Tuesday at The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas during his annual state-of-the-league news conference he didn’t believe a separate division would be created, that common interest in creating a greater good would prevail.
“There is no easy fix,” he said. “There is no right solution for everybody. But I think by a collegiate, collaborative effort, we’re going to be able to get it together and find solutions to make everybody happy.”
Thompson said he could see a separate set of rules — stipends for football players at Alabama, for example, that wouldn’t be available to a Boise State athlete. So even if a separate division wasn’t created, an unlevel playing field nevertheless would be created.
“It certainly could be an unequal playing field, but we have that today,” Thompson said. “There are $140 million budgets competing against $15 million budgets. We have institutions with $11.5 million, $12 million football budgets and $5 million. We’re uneven in the Mountain West conference.”
Thompson said he wasn’t concerned about the Mountain West’s stability should major changes occur.
His league already has been through plenty, losing Brigham Young, Utah and Texas Christian in recent years. Boise State and San Diego State appeared to be gone to the Big East Conference, but those schools opted to remain in the Mountain West after the Big East lost a handful of programs last year.
The Mountain West also added San Jose State and Utah State, two football teams coming off potential breakout seasons.
Now the league is at 12 teams, and for the first time it is split into two divisions with a conference championship game at the end of the season.
“We’re thrilled to death,” Thompson said. “This thing makes so much sense. There’s familiarity. There’s history. There’s geography. So I think there’s a lot of energy right now.”
Contact reporter Mark Anderson at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-387-2914. Follow him on Twitter: @markanderson65.