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Mountain West teams meeting in bowl speaks loudly about Mountain West

Full disclosure: I have never been one of those anti-bowl game guys. Never been one to care much about how many postseason college football affairs are played. Never took the time to pore over annual matchups and offer an opinion about which ones should be contested and which should be embarrassed for doing so.

Not a big deal to me, I suppose.

If it’s a positive and memorable experience for those playing and coaching and watching, so be it. If a young man gets to visit a place he otherwise wouldn’t and makes a few new friends and receives some gifts along way, good for him. I never understood why so many people with absolutely zero connection to different bowls are so upset they exist.

But perception about one’s conference still matters nationally, and when the Nova Home Loans Arizona Bowl kicks off today in Tucson — one of a record 41 bowls this year — that of Mountain West football will endure a devastating punch to the gut.

Even more so than the forgettable season the league just endured.

Colorado State plays UNR in the inaugural offering of the Arizona Bowl, meaning that for the first time since Oklahoma and Nebraska faced off in 1979, two teams from the same conference will meet in a bowl.

Of course, the game nearly four decades ago matched the nation’s No. 4 team against its No. 6 in the Orange Bowl.

Big difference.

It was first announced that the Arizona Bowl wouldn’t be televised, which given the eventual reality of two conference teams playing each other seemed like a blessing. Craig Thompson as Mountain West commissioner went as far to tell reporters at the league’s basketball media day that, “Four billion people worldwide will have access to the Arizona Bowl (online).”

I don’t usually feel sorry for Thompson but found a bit of empathy based simply on the absurdity such a statement, given that while it’s true the wonderful world of the Internet might allow for such an audience, it’s a safe bet those in China and Russia and Canada and pretty much the entire United States have no clue the Arizona Bowl exists, much less would click a mouse to watch it.

It was later announced that television rights to the game had been sold separately to something called Sinclair Broadcast Group’s American Sports Network unit, which you may or may not have heard of and, depending on the tier of programming you get, may or may not have the channel that will show it. It has been reported the game will reach 88 million homes across the country.

Put it this way: It’s still not ESPN, which seems willing to televise any bowl with a naming sponsor and a pulse.

But here is where Thompson really erred when the matchup was announced: He complained about it publicly.

He called the outcome a travesty. He said it shows the bowl system is broken. He released a statement claiming that, “there is an excess of bowl games due in part to a disparate allocation of openings vs. conference bowl histories.”

He needs to look in the mirror. If the system is broken, much of it falls on the shoulders of him and others in his position.

Do you know one of the greatest fears for Thompson and other non-Power 5 commissioners? That they have bowl eligible teams with nowhere to play. That their leagues are considered so irrelevant nationally, a winning record won’t even guarantee one of their teams a postseason berth.

So they push and push and push for more bowl games. They sign deals for ones that originally have zero television coverage. They become desperate.

I get it. Commissioners have to do what in their minds is best for their respective leagues. It’s not easy being among the have-nots in a world dominated by Power 5s, when you continue to make small-time decisions like hosting your conference basketball tournament on the home floor of a league member and eliminating three teams from even competing in such an event.

And when a conference like the Mountain West keeps agreeing to more bowl contracts, then it has no room to whine when certain postseason games prefer a 5-7 team from a Power 5 over one of your own with a winning record.

Why wouldn’t they?

What in the world did Mountain West football do this season to receive the benefit of anyone’s doubt? The league was awful. One-third of its teams finishing with three or fewer wins, and half of the 12 teams have Sagarin ratings of 102 or worse.

When the best you can offer a conference champion (San Diego State) — which ended with a 10-game win streak and yet until Thursday hadn’t beaten a scholarship team outside its league — is a berth in the Hawaii Bowl against a third-place team from the American Athletic Conference on Christmas Eve, releasing a statement about how the system has failed isn’t going to elicit many compassionate responses.

Nor should it.

Thompson said his league “explored every possibility for placing (Colorado State and UNR). We suggested swaps, alternative financial arrangements and creative options. Unfortunately, no one was willing to adjust and those efforts were to no avail.”

The cold, hard hard truth about why nobody would adjust or compromise is exactly why two Mountain West teams will play each other in a bowl game: The conference is becoming less and less relevant in this College Football Playoff universe.

Good for the kids from Colorado State and UNR. Good that they make some friends and get some gifts and are afforded the opportunity to play another game and hopefully create some wonderful memories. All of that is positive stuff.

But the perception isn’t positive for the Mountain West. It should make the league sort of happy there’s a good chance few know what the Sinclair Broadcast Group’s American Sports Network is and that those in Russia will be fast asleep come kickoff.

Push for as many bowls as you like. But when things don’t fall your way with matchups, instead of complaining about it, look in the mirror.

Deaf ears, man. Deaf ears.

— Ed Graney can be reached at egraney@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4618. He can be a heard on “Seat and Ed” on Fox Sports 1340 from 2 to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday. Follow him: @edgraney

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