LAS VEGAS — Mountain West commissioner Craig Thompson painted a picture of college football as mostly sunny, but with “storm clouds.”
Most of those potential storms, for now at least, exist only in the abstract.
Talk of the power five conferences — or “high-resource conferences,” as Thompson preferred to call them — dominated the commissioner’s annual speech Tuesday in Las Vegas. Thompson admitted that the Mountain West has no leverage in stopping those leagues from doing as they please, but doesn’t foresee any problems as long as any changes don’t include increasing scholarship limits, allowing penalty-free transfers or cutting off smaller conferences altogether from scheduling.
Budget disparities have always existed and likely always will, Thompson reasoned, so as long as the league doesn’t lose its chance for on-field competition with those five conferences or have its players poached by bigger schools then all can continue to coexist peacefully.
As for the conference’s own issues, Thompson said schools have not formulated plans to fund more meals and snacks, nor would they currently be able to meet increases in cost-of-attendance stipends that may soon accompany athletic scholarships.
Money for extra food alone may cost the conference schools as much as $1 million, and that money has to come from somewhere. It can’t necessarily be tacked onto the student’s scholarship without leading to tax issues and inviting government intervention, which conferences would prefer to avoid.
Many of those issues will likely be handled on a school-by-school basis, which could further increase the gap between the haves and have nots even within the MW.
“We’re not at a tipping point, but we’re in a very precarious situation because of the unknown… . It’s a scary time because resources are finite,” Thompson said.
Still, the commissioner’s hour-long session wasn’t all doom and gloom. He likes the conference’s chances of putting a team in the conversation for the four-team College Football Playoff, or at least generally securing the guaranteed non-power five spot in a New Year’s Eve bowl.
As for the new playoff format, Thompson believes it will expand beyond four teams before the end of its 12-year deal.
Thompson likes the MW’s 12-team football setup and doesn’t feel a need to press for expansion. While he would be open to adding a “basketball-only” team, which would bring that number to an even 12, he would prefer to let the setup “marinate” and allow for rivalries and familiarity to take hold.