MWC chief hits on schools’ financial struggles

Mountain West Conference commissioner Craig Thompson had plenty to sell in his annual state-of-the-league news conference Wednesday.

National power Boise State begins play this season, which should help the conference’s effort to secure a two-year Bowl Championship Series waiver. And Fresno State, Hawaii and UNR will make the conference deeper when they enter the league next year — the Warriors in football only.

But selling the positive wasn’t the focus of Thompson’s statement at Red Rock Resort for the conference’s media days. Instead, he spoke extensively about the difficult financial situations his member schools face and the need to rein in cheating among the top national programs.

Not exactly the our-best-days-are-ahead-of-us address that was expected.

On the financial situation in which schools throughout the conference have suffered cuts: "Our biggest challenge we face is keeping the doors open to try to maintain, let alone trying to grow."

On major programs that have won by breaking rules: "It’s frustrating and borderline disgusting that institutions at that level can cut corners and not pay a price. … There have got to be debilitating sanctions."

Maybe Thompson has reasons to be gloomy. As the only commissioner the Mountain West has known through 12 years, he could be tired of trying to beat down BCS doors and help his conference keep up with the facilities arms race that has enveloped college sports.

But he has reasons to hope.

The Big 12 Conference faces internal questions because of the TV network Texas formed with ESPN. Texas A&M, in particular, has voiced concern, and there is speculation the Aggies could help lead a small exodus to the Southeastern Conference.

That could break up the Big 12, possibly putting the Mountain West in play for at least some of the remaining schools. Thompson made clear the MWC is not interested in adding schools such as Utah State, despite an Internet report to the contrary, and that he is watching what happens with the Big 12.

"There’s a reason we haven’t talked expansion," Thompson said. "We’ve been very selective."

As for receiving a two-year BCS waiver, Thompson said he didn’t know the process nor the conference’s chances.

This is the final year of a four-year evaluation period, and the MWC probably will meet two of the qualifying standards and fall just short in the third. The Big East Conference received a waiver in 2008 under similar circumstances.

A big season for the Mountain West would help its argument, but Thompson said a good case already has been made.

The BCS organizers "didn’t anticipate anybody would ever meet the standards," Thompson said. "We’ve been meeting the standards."

Should the Mountain West fail to become a BCS automatic qualifier, the league could take a financial hit. Thompson said Conference USA and the Western Athletic Conference previously have voted with the Mountain West to divide BCS shares among the five nonqualifying leagues based on merit.

Thompson suspects the WAC, which by next year will have lost four members to the Mountain West, will switch its vote so that each conference receives 20 percent of the $24.7 million doled out by the BCS. The MWC received $12.7 million last season.

■ NOTE — UNLV single-game football tickets go on sale Monday.

Contact reporter Mark Anderson at manderson@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2914. Follow him on Twitter: @markanderson65.

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