Mountain West commish: Confident new playoff system will reward league

By Brian Murphy

Mountain West Commissioner Craig Thompson on expanding the playoff beyond four teams.

Mountain West Commissioner Craig Thompson on whether his league should continue scheduling FCS teams and if he is concerned that power 5 conferences may not play teams from the MW anymore.

LAS VEGAS — College football’s new postseason structure has reserved one spot for a conference champion from the Mountain West, Conference USA, American, Mid-American and Sun Belt in one of the six biggest bowl games.

Mountain West Commissioner Craig Thompson told the Idaho Statesman on Monday that he is confident his league is going to occupy that spot more often than not beginning in 2014. The highest-ranked champion from those leagues will secure the spot and an estimated $6 million to $8 million payday for the league.

“We think that over a 12-year period, it’s going to be our champion frequently,” Thompson said. “Under the more restrictive access to the postseason, we had four teams play in BCS bowls.”

In its 14-year history, the Mountain West has 12 times been the highest-ranked of the non-BCS conferences, which also included the WAC. The MW was second in another year. Last year, however, the league ranked fifth.

“We won’t ever be again,” Thompson said.

Those rankings are more than about bragging rights. They have financial implications in how those five leagues distribute their share of playoff revenue. Thompson said all five leagues will receive $10 million per season. Additional money will be distributed based on those rankings with the No. 1 league receiving $8 million to $9 million annually and the No. 5 league receiving $2 million to $3 million annually.

Additionally, the league that places a team in one of the six bowls will receive an additional $6 million to $8 million. Per Boise State’s agreement with the league, that bonus money would be split between the participating school and the conference.

Thompson will meet with the assembled media in Las Vegas today.

Among the topics:

• Thompson said the league is going to have at least five bowl tie-ins from 2014-19. All five will be in Mountain West cities as the league renews deals with the Las Vegas Bowl, the Poinsettia Bowl in San Diego, the New Mexico Bowl, the Hawaii Bowl and Boise’s Famous Idaho Potato Bowl. “The question is how, rank, order, selection, etc.,” Thompson said, “and are we going to have a sixth? Do we need a sixth? Is a sixth feasible?”

If the league consistently sends a team to the playoff bowls, then it would be six bowl tie-ins.

“We’ve been talking to a number of bowls basically under a scenario where if have six bowl eligible (teams), they would come to your game. If we don’t have six bowl eligible, you’re the one that gets left out,” he said.

Thompson said the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl would not be the sixth game.

“They’ll get a team.”

• Thompson said negotiations are ongoing between the league and CBS Sports to broadcast the league’s championship game. “CBS owns the rights. We’ve been negotiating draft contracts, but it’s not final,” he said.

• Thompson said he agrees with commissioners of the Big 5 conferences (ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 and SEC) that “this is the time and place to look at the overall governance and structure” of the NCAA. “I don’t know what the structure is and I’m not going to hypothesize what it looks like.”

Thompson said a line has always existed between the BCS conferences and the others, but that the Mountain West has played at a very high level. “As college football fans, how far away is the MW from the lowest-ranked contract conference?” he said. In the final year of the BCS, the American — a reconfigured league with Big East and Conference USA members — has an automatic spot.

• Thompson said he is glad that “membership pains have kind of stabilized.” He said the league is comfortable with its current 12-team alignment. Expansion is not a priority.

“Here’s what it gets down to, let’s say philosophically, who 1 and why 2,” Thompson said. “Who’s out there that says, ‘OK, your TV package goes from $18 million to $36 million to $72 million.’ That’s what the other guys are facing as well.”

Thompson said his league maintains a good relationship with former member BYU, which is now an independent in football. “If they ever decide that maybe that’s not the right place for them, we have a good relationship. We talk to them. We schedule them,” Thompson said. “They’ll probably wait and see four, five years into it (the new playoff system). What does this mean to us? Can we access this at all?”

Sports columnist Brian Murphy writes about all sports in the Treasure Valley with a concentration on Boise State football and men's basketball. Murph has been with the Statesman since 2005. You can follow him on Twitter @MurphsTurph.

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