Mountain West Conference sets sights on BCS; Expansion not imminent
By STEVE KIGGINS Star-Tribune staff writer Thursday, July 31, 2003
LAS VEGAS -- Commissioner Craig Thompson, citing the Mountain West Conference's commitment to football -- a claim highlighted by $203 million in combined upgrades over the past five years at the eight member institutions -- stressed the conference's intention on Monday to gain inclusion to a restructured Bowl Championship Series.
During his State of the Conference address, Thompson also quashed rumors of immediate expansion, talked of "very preliminary" plans for a bowl game in Denver and warned fans to expect higher ticket prices as the Mountain West continues its push to compete at the highest possible level.
The conference would take a monumental step in that direction if it is able to join forces with the somewhat controversial BCS, which currently chooses eight teams from six conferences to play in college football's four marquee bowl games.
"We've made a hell of a commitment in football, and we will continue to do so," Thompson said during his address, which served to kick off the conference's annual Football Media Day inside the JW Marriott. "Two-hundred-three million, that's a commitment."
The Mountain West will begin what Thompson promised to be a "long process" to gain entrance to the BCS on Sept. 8, when conference officials meet with the BCS Presidential Oversight Committee in Chicago.
The oversight committee is working to develop several options to present to the BCS -- possibly the inclusion of another bowl game -- to ensure more conferences be allowed the opportunity to earn big bowl paydays.
The BCS currently consists of the Fiesta, Orange, Rose and Sugar bowls, all of which pay $11 to 13 million to each participating team.
Colorado State, last year's Mountain West champion, earned $1.3 million in the Liberty Bowl.
"I don't anticipate coming out of that Sept. 8 meeting with a plan. I think it's the beginning," Thompson said. "We're very excited about the dialogue starting. This is going to be a long process. It's going to be something that we begin discussion this fall, talk about all the options that might be available.
"We are going to look at a restructured postseason for football," he said. "It's very, very exciting times. This is very important. The absolute front-burner issue for the Mountain West Conference is the postseason structure."
Asked what the Mountain West would want in a restructured postseason, Thompson replied, "That's a good question. I can't answer that. I'm not going to be evasive, but I don't know what we want." A moment later, Thompson added, "We are after one thing -- postseason access."
In addition to the $203 million in improvements, a figure which includes the building of the Rochelle Athletics Center in Laramie and stadium upgrades at Utah, UNLV and Air Force, Thompson argued that the Mountain West was "closer to BCS (conferences) than non-BCS (conferences)" in terms of attendance figures, television ratings and scheduling.
Also, Thompson stressed that the Mountain West has garnered more victories over teams from BCS conferences than any other non-BCS conference since the series was formed in 1998.
"We're excited to have an opportunity to perhaps be at the table and present our case," he said, referring to the Chicago meeting.
While the Mountain West awaits its BCS fate, Thompson said conference officials are talking of creating a bowl game to be played at Denver's INVESCO Field. At the earliest, the Denver bowl game would debut in 2005, the commissioner said.
Thompson noted that Denver Broncos owner Pat Bowlen and INVESCO Field officials have shown "great interest" in hosting a bowl game.
This season, the Mountain West is tied to the Liberty, Las Vegas and San Francisco bowls.
The Seattle Bowl, which was scheduled to include the conference's fourth-place team, will not be played this year but Thompson hopes the game can be revived for 2004.
Don't expect the Mountain West to have any more than eight teams in 2004, though.
Although conference presidents agreed to explore expansion at their annual meeting earlier this year, Thompson said, "We don't have to do anything -- and I want to emphasize that. There has not been a determination to expand the Mountain West."
A sub-committee, however, has been formed to evaluate the pros and cons of expansion, Thompson said. As per conference rules, six of eight schools must approve any potential expansion.
If the Mountain West does elect to expand, Thompson said he felt it was imperative to stay within the Mountain and Pacific time zones, citing the failure of the 16-team Western Athletic Conference, which included schools in four time zones.
Also, Thompson echoed University of Wyoming President Philip Dubois, who stressed in unveiling the school's Strategic Plan for Intercollegiate Athletics earlier this year that fans must be willing to pay higher ticket prices.
"We need to educate our fans, alumni, boosters that there's a definite cost, a price to play at this level. We need to step it up," Thompson said. "You look around the country at booster clubs and the kinds of money they're raising.
" You have to play a license fee to buy the opportunity to buy a season ticket at certain (locations). "Our people are kind of slowly coming into this century on this issue. I need to say, the $15 football ticket in the Mountain West Conference is long gone," he said. "We need to step it up.
"Our people need to understand that if we want to play at the highest level, we need to pay to play at the highest level," he continued. "They need to understand that you can't do things the way we did it in 1990 and expect to succeed in this day and age."