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Mountain West commissioner bids farewell to Utah, says conference will be fine with Boise State

JAKE SCHALLER Updated: July 28, 2010 at 12:00 am

LAS VEGAS • Mountain West Conference commissioner Craig Thompson took time Wednesday to bid a fond farewell to Utah, which will join the Pac-10 in 2011.

But while he lamented the loss of a charter member that has long-standing rivalries with several conference teams — specifically BYU — he isn’t worried about the effect the Utes’ departure will have on the league’s ongoing quest to earn status as an automatic-qualifying BCS conference thanks to the 2011 addition of Boise State to the league.

In other words, he disagrees with Karl Benson, commissioner of the league Boise State is leaving — the Western Athletic Conference. On Monday Benson said, “especially now losing Utah,” the MWC is “not even going to be close to meeting the criteria” for becoming an automatic-qualifying BCS conference.

“I don’t know what numbers he’s looking at,” Thompson said during a question-and-answer session after his annual state of the conference address at Red Rock Resort. “Boise State has finished sixth and ninth in the past two years in the BCS final rankings. And I don’t mean this disparagingly at all — I talked to (Utah coach) Kyle (Whittingham) about this last night — Utah has finished sixth and 23rd. I’m not a mathematician, but six and nine is better than six and 23.”

A league can become an automatic-qualifying BCS conference by being in the top six in three categories after a four-year evaluation period. The categories are: rank of its top team; number of teams in the top 25 of the final BCS standings (adjusted for different conference sizes); and the final regular-season rankings of all conference teams.

With Utah the league would rank third, third and seventh in those three categories, respectively. But with Boise State the league ranks fourth, first and seventh (and the BCS will use the MWC’s numbers with Boise, not Utah, when the evaluation period ends).

Still, Thompson stressed the league (and Boise) must continue to perform well the next two seasons to have a chance at earning automatic-qualifying status.

“It’s halftime,” he said. “We’ve played two quarters. We cannot afford to have one single 19th-ranked team this year and expect to maintain that status. We might not have to have three top 25 (teams), but we have to play well and finish these last two years.”

Most pressing is getting the teams at the bottom of the league to perform better so the MWC can improve its ranking of the league as a whole. Thompson said he thought some of those teams “over-schedule.” UNLV, for example, faces Wisconsin and West Virginia in its nonconference schedule.

Other notes from Thompson’s address and subsequent chat with the media:

• Thompson said he anticipates one or two of the league’s men’s basketball games during the upcoming season will be televised on CBS.

• As for getting football games on CBS, Thompson said teams would have to agree to play at 10 a.m. (MT) so the network would be able to televise SEC games at 1:30 or 2 p.m. (MT). Thompson said such a scenario is “not dead” but “not happening” currently.

• Thompson said the MWC — if asked — would try to help broker a deal to keep the BYU-Utah game going annually. “I just think that’s one of the games that ought to be played,” he said.

However, Thompson said it was unlikely the game could continue to be both teams’ final game of the regular season.

• The Mtn., the league’s television network, is available on DirecTV but not DISH Network. But Thompson said the league is going to re-open discussions with DISH. “I think that’s back in play with the addition of Boise State,” he said.

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