Q&A: MWC commissioner Craig Thompson

I just had a chance to speak with Mountain West commissioner Craig Thompson on a variety of topics. Thompson has been a busy man of late, having just returned from Las Vegas after a two-day Board of Directors meeting. Part I focuses on expansion, why the league decided to stand at 10 teams, and why there will be no further discussion of a potential championship game with Conference USA.

Part II focuses on the league’s quest to become an automatic qualifier, coming later this afternoon. Here are a few of his comments.

Why did the league decide it was best to stand at 10 teams?

CT: I think this meeting was, in terms of expansion, a little overblown. There was probably no more or less conversation on membership than in the past. This was a unique meeting because we had four new presidents that had never been on calls before, since we are acting as though we’re a 10-team football league in 2010.

We did have conversations about membership and the usual suspects appeared -- BCS automatic qualifications, schedule, history, rivalries with current members. … We had thorough, diligent discussions about the merits and, similar to past discussions, the pitfalls if you will of 11 members, of 12 members. Why would we go to 12? Why would we go to 11? What are the values? You can look at our history. Until the summer of 2010, we added one member in 11 years, TCU. We are very conservative by nature, and it goes back to the roots of why the league was formed in 1999. They want to play members they know and have a history against. … This always comes back to BCS automatic qualification and television. We have five more years with Comcast and CBS and were having conversations with them about various aspects.

So how seriously were the options discussed?

CT: It was a conversation that was thorough and deliberate. We really started at the 30,000-foot level of a 12-member league with a championship game and divisional play. There wasn’t a lot of specific drill down on this institution or that institution.

Could the league expand in the future? What would have to change for that to happen?

CT: I would think probably one of two things would have to happen before we get back to it. The decision has been made -- we’re not even at 10 members until 2012, but I would say unless current institutions resign their membership or there’s a major national change in the landscape of several conferences. There was talk as early as February of 2010 of the superconferences and the Mountain West and C-USA merging and all sorts of speculative things. Jump forward to January 2011, four institutions changed into those six automatic qualifying conferences. So there wasn’t the major upheaval that was discussed at one point. I don’t know whether it’s settled down. I read where the Big Ten is done, the Big 12 is done, the Pac-10 is done. What does done mean? Who knows. Unless we see major shifts, we’re probably not going to spend a whole lot of time on the topic of membership and expansion in future meetings.

How much did the league learn in terms of potential financial windfall of a potential league title game, and how much of a bearing did that have in the decision?

CT: It was discussed. Let’s say you can make $5 million in additional rights fees for a championship game. You’ve got to pay half a million or more to rent a facility, then you can argue about where the game is going to be played. Then you give something extra for the two participants. Let’s say each institution makes $100,000. That’s better than not making $100,00 but does that game get you into a Kansas State-Texas situation or a position where you’ve got a 12-0 from the East vs. 11-1 from West and the West wins. You just knocked yourself out of a BCS berth. The proof is there. We have had three consecutive bowl participants, all undefeated and it’s worked pretty well.

You mentioned C-USA earlier. One of the ideas that had been mentioned was potentially having your champion and its champion play in a championship game to get a BCS bid. Is that still on the table?

CT: Following the meetings Monday and Tuesday, it’s not active. (C-USA commissioner) Britton (Banowsky) is probably one of my closest friends in the commissioner ranks, so we talk all the time. Again, the BCS has not said if you have such a game that champion will have an automatic BCS bowl berth. That’s fundamental. And I don’t suspect they’re going to, and I don’t know that’s something that would be on our radar to present.

You can be half full or half empty all day with Mountain West. We have three consecutive BCS bowl games with TCU and Utah, but those three participants after next year will leave. But coming in are three BCS participants -- Boise State twice and Hawaii. … We’re feeling a sense of recalibration. We weren’t at any particular place five or six years into the Mountain West, but we’re optimistic with this current 10-team makeup we can have similar successes.