LAS VEGAS — Two weeks ago, after months of campaigning against the Bowl Championship Series, the Mountain West Conference announced it would sign the BCS contract with ESPN that runs through the 2013 season.
But a peace treaty it was not.
MWC commissioner Craig Thompson has vowed to continue the fight to earn his league automatic inclusion in the BCS.
It was the topic of the majority of the questions he fielded after his annual state of the conference address Wednesday, and it’s one of the main reasons he agreed to a contract extension through 2012.
“Every job has its thing, and (automatic qualification) may be my challenge, and that’s part of the reason I opted to stay on,” he said, adding that the league has created some momentum. “We’re performing at a level that we can play our way in. And I want to be a part of the change. One of the greatest moments for me personally would be the day we say we have automatic qualification.”
Thompson not only wants his teams to have a chance to compete for a national title — unbeaten Utah was shut out of the championship game last season — but also be compensated equitably.
He estimated that during the past 10 years, the MWC has received about $37 million from the BCS, while the automatic-qualifying conferences have earned about $150 million apiece.
Thompson created waves by appearing on Capitol Hill to testify about the BCS, and he will continue to speak out for his conference. But he admitted the best ammunition is winning more games. This season presents an excellent opportunity as BYU faces Oklahoma and Florida State, TCU plays at Virginia and Clemson, Utah plays at Oregon and Air Force plays at Minnesota — all in the first month of the season.
“If we don’t do well, they’ll say, ‘Yup, see, they can’t do it. They’re not there,’” Thompson said. “If we do have success, they’ll say, ‘Maybe they’re right, maybe they can play at this level.’ … It is what it is. We know we have to win games.”
On-field performance also provides an opportunity for automatic qualification before the end of the recently signed BCS contract. Last season was the first of a four-year qualifying cycle in which conferences can gain automatic status based on several factors including their highest-ranked team, the number of teams they have in the final Top 25 BCS standings and an overall performance ranking.
Other topics Thompson mentioned during Wednesday’s address:
• The conference is affiliated with five bowls — the Humanitarian Bowl (in Boise, Idaho) joining the Las Vegas, Poinsettia, Armed Forces and New Mexico bowls. The league’s contracts with each bowl will end after the season, but Thompson said the league will have five bowls “in 2010 and beyond.” He said he expected to renew contracts with bowls in home stadiums of MWC teams (Las Vegas, Poinsettia, Armed Forces and New Mexico) and look at other bowls such as the EagleBank Bowl in Washington, D.C., and the Texas Bowl in Houston.
• The league has spent a lot of time “talking in general” about expansion but not about individual teams. He said adding a 10th team (and thus a ninth league game) would cut down on scheduling freedom for teams such as Air Force, which already has traditional annual games against Army and Navy.
• About 50 percent of the league’s games will be televised in high definition, Thompson said — all the games on CBS College Sports and Versus and the November games on The mtn.
NOTES: Heading into the preseason, just half of the 22 offensive and defensive starters listed on Air Force’s two-deep chart are seniors.
But that’s deceiving.
“If you look at the grades, you’d think we have a lot of youth,” senior strong safety Chris Thomas said. “But a lot of those guys have played a lot of time. The sophomores will be playing like juniors and the juniors will be playing like seniors.”
Five of the senior starters are along the offensive line.
“We have a group of guys who have been working together for four years now — some five,” senior guard Nick Charles said. “We know each other’s tendencies, how we work well together. I think we really do have a chance to drag this team along.”
Keuchler out for 2009
Junior outside linebacker Will Keuchler will not play in 2009 so he can concentrate on academics.
“He’s got a burning desire to be in the Special Forces, but he realizes what he’s got to do is go solely the academic route,” Air Force coach Troy Calhoun said. “We’ve got to get him graduated because he’ll do some great, great things on active duty.”
Calhoun said he had no say in moving Air Force’s 2012 game at Army to Yankee Stadium. “I think it was purely something West Point wanted to do,” he said, adding, “I think it’ll be pretty neat.”