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Mountain West commissioner Craig Thompson addressed media on Wednesday, July 21, 2021 at the Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas. (BRENT BRIGGEMAN, THE GAZETTE)

LAS VEGAS – The Mountain West’s approach to the coronavirus for the upcoming school year has shifted because of the availability of multiple vaccines.

If a team can’t play, it will be a forfeit instead of a no-contest. If a player is vaccinated, they will not be subjected to testing or social distancing. Those who are unvaccinated will be subject to testing, and the conference will not subsidize the cost of those tests.

“You have a choice,” commissioner Craig Thompson said at his annual address at the league’s media days event. “But if you choose not to be vaccinated, there may be consequences.”

COVID-19 dominated Thompson’s talking points, though he touched on topics that included a proposed expansion to the College Football Playoff model that would expand opportunities for conferences like the Mountain West and a potential national shake-up.

“The biggest fear I have right now is probably complacency with the virus,” Thompson said. “I think there’s so many in this world — in this country — who are saying ‘The worst is over. It’s done.’ Doubtful.”

The Colorado Springs-based conference’s health and safety advisory committee “is highly recommending that all individuals receive a COVID vaccination at their earliest opportunity.”

Thompson said the total vaccination rate among the Mountain West’s 12 football teams was at about 73% based on a survey of athletic directors from a week ago. Seven teams are at about 80%.

There will be no postponements of games this year because of COVID, with a hard rule that if a team is not ready to play at the scheduled time because of player availability it will forfeit the contest. There will be no minimum roster thresholds either, as there were a year ago.

“Last year there was not a choice to be made,” Thompson said. “This year there is.”

Thompson said the differences in local policies throughout the conference made it unlikely that universal standards will be set for rules regarding attendance.

Thompson also discussed …

Playoff expansion

Thompson was part of a committee that recommended the College Football Playoff Committee expand from four to 12 teams in a model that would include the top six rated conference champions and six at-large selections. If approved in a vote that could be held in late September, this could be implemented in two to four years.

“I’ve been a playoff proponent since the beginning of this league and I’ve fought hard,” Thompson said. “I personally believe that 12 teams is a great opportunity.”

Air Force coach Troy Calhoun, like the rest of the league’s coaches, favored expansion.

“I think any time you increase opportunity in any aspect, in any walk of life, that’s a good thing,” Calhoun said. “I think what you’re doing now, you’re opening up opportunities.”

The Mountain West would consider altering its division format to ensure its top two teams play in the conference championship game, but those discussions are in their infancy and one of the only certainties Thompson could offer was that key rivalries like Colorado State vs. Wyoming would be preserved though any such shift.

Conference shake-up

A report surfaced that Texas and Oklahoma are exploring a jump from the Big 12 to the SEC. Thompson told The Athletic’s Chris Vannini that such a move could be a “tipping point” to mass realignment.

“I’m not a hypothetical guy,” Thompson told the room of reporters gathered at The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas. “I don’t even want to venture a guess.”

Air Force and Colorado State were among teams that lobbied for spots in the Big 12 when the conference considered expansion in 2016.

Name, image, likeness

A shift in NCAA rules allow individual student-athletes to profit from their name, image or likeness, but the Mountain West “cannot as a conference come up with particular policies,” because of the differences in laws and protocols in the seven states in which they operate. The conference is holding webinars and is considering a weekly newsletter for compliance workers.

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