Published: July 23, 2013
LAS VEGAS - Craig Thompson wanted to trumpet the recent successes of the Mountain West when he addressed the media Tuesday.
The conference commissioner's notes on the new membership, divisions and championship game were only briefly mentioned. Thompson instead launched immediately into reaction to a public suggestion made Monday by Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby that the five BCS conferences form a federation that would pave the way to allow them to eventually compete separately in football.
"It might happen, but I don't think it will happen," Thompson said. "I think there will be a different solution."
Thompson was open to working out concessions to the larger conferences that might result in stipends being paid to players. Yes, it would make the playing field more unbalanced, but he doesn't think a couple of thousand dollars for athletes would trump all other decisions that go into making a college choice - provided the teams are competing for the same stakes.
"The bottom line is everyone knows there are issues with the NCAA," Thompson said at the conclusion of Mountain West Media Days. "There is no easy fix. There is no right solution for everybody."
There are several layers to the discussion regarding the disparity of budgets and money generated by different conferences, institutions and how it perhaps no longer makes sense to consider football in the same conversation as other sports.
The issue dominated conversation Tuesday, with Air Force coach Troy Calhoun even calling the attempt to divide football-playing schools "not an American thought."
Then again, Calhoun also expressed displeasure with the Mountain West's new divisions and the culture of football as big business in general. This makes sense, of course, since Calhoun runs a program that must balance military and academic priorities to a higher degree than others and the continued shift puts his team at a growing disadvantage.
Others were against what Thompson called Division 4, but understood why the issues continue to be stirred up every year as the money surrounding the sport grows and the ways to distribute it evolve.
"I was on that other side at Notre Dame," New Mexico coach Bob Davie said. "Then when I was at ESPN I went to all these programs on game day and I saw these places and what it's like to walk into the Georgias and the Tennessees for the weekend and see the kind of revenue that's generated. It's a valid point if you look at it just from that standpoint, from a business model. But this isn't just a business."
Davie scoffed at the notion that the Mountain West can't compete with the ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 and SEC.
"You go around this room right now and look at Troy Calhoun, Jim McElwain," Davie said. "I mean, we're coaching exactly the same. Urban Meyer was with me for five years at Notre Dame. Nick Saban and I grew up together, basically. We're coaching the same way that the Alabamas and Ohio States of the world are coaching. We're doing the same things, same kind of Xs and Os. Our stadiums might be different, but it's the same kind of programs. I would hope there's enough to spread it around for the coaching profession.
"There's not that much difference between any of that. It's just the presentation of it."
Thompson also disagreed with the notion that the Mountain West should be considered on a second tier, but believes some of it stems from the near-constant attention the conference has had to dedicate to issues of membership that has left little time to focus on marketing and television appearances.
"The biggest thing is to be competitive nationally and win," he said.