BOISE, Idaho – Craig Thompson isn’t going to pretend he didn’t take some personal satisfaction in Air Force remaining in the Mountain West.
Thompson, the only commissioner the Colorado Springs-based conference has known, opens the curtains from his home on Old North Gate and sees directly into the academy. His offices are just down the street on Interquest Parkway, largely because he decided more than two decades ago that he would be more successful in recruiting a staff to Colorado Springs than to the other option, Las Vegas.
“For me, personally, I would have hated to see Air Force leave,” Thompson said Saturday evening prior to Air Force’s game at Boise State. “I live there. I’ve lived there for almost 23 years. I think it’s a wonderful community for us.”
The Falcons were among four schools considering leaving the conference late in September, a move that could have potentially placed the location of the conference offices in jeopardy. But nobody left, keeping the conference intact. For now.
Air Force athletic director Nathan Pine told 740 KVOR on Oct. 2 that uncertainty among Mountain West membership would continue until the conference eliminates its financial gap with the American Athletic Conference, which had courted Air Force, Boise State, Colorado State and San Diego State.
“At the end of the day, we need a collective strategy for the Mountain West, and that lies with our commissioner,” Pine said.
Addressing that issue on Saturday, Thompson said many options remain in play. Expansion could happen outside of football, where Gonzaga and Wichita State have been mentioned as options. The league could also grow in football, where Thompson said conversations have been held with four to six institutions.
What he wouldn’t offer was a quick fix. The Mountain West is locked into its current television deal through 2026, and he sees a low probability that any moves made before then would add enough value to prompt a significant negotiation of the current terms.
He does, however, feel that the Mountain West’s ability to stick together – at least so far – has added value that will carry weight in the next round of talks with television networks.
But Thompson understands that might not be the case in four years when those negotiations begin. If the Big 12 calls, he knows the Mountain West won’t have leverage to keep a team.
“I say that for all 12 institutions, Air Force included, I want them to be the best they can; the best national program,” Thompson said. “And if they’re with us, that’s unbelievable. If they have an opportunity to improve themselves or their lot changes, I’m happy with that too because they left us in a better place.”
That said, Thompson is high on where the conference stands.
"I’ll frame it this way, if the Mountain West were stock, I’m big, I’m buying. I think our future is really bright," he said. "I’m bullish. I think we have a great opportunity here and really look forward to our growth the next couple of years."