The Mountain West Conference Board of Directors (which is comprised of the 12 Presidents from each football member school) concluded their annual meeting a few weeks ago. At the end of it, they made a series of announcements. These announcements pertain to some aspects of the next year will look like. Most of these were directed at cost-cutting and saving type of efforts. While almost all of them are at least minimally positive, they are worth looking at and talking about a bit as they will be a reality in the MWC going forward.
Back to school
What was said: The Mountain West removed its indefinite suspension of in-person team athletic activities which had been in place since March 26. The MW will allow voluntary in-person athletic workouts for all sports beginning June 1. Each MW institution will have the discretion to make their determination within state, local, NCAA and campus guidelines.
What we think: This was a no-brainer and positive move for student-athletes. For the states that can handle it, getting the athletes back on campus to train in a safe and planned way makes sense. Going in waves and, of course, each school’s detailed plan for testing and safety is a must. Already Alabama has had returning players testing positive. It seems like a good step given where much of the country is, and of course, it is a good morale booster with the hopes of having sports this year.
Health and Safety
What was said: Discussed the MW Health and Safety Advisory Group comprised of medical professionals and senior level administrators representing all 12 Mountain West football-playing universities. The advisory group’s mission is to help provide guidance as the league prepares for the return of athletics activities, including team gatherings, practices, conditioning and competition.
What we think: It’s a good thing to have a group with representation from each school. The issue, as multiple people have said publicly, is that the conference spans multiple states and areas in the country, all of whom have their own levels of exposure and timetable to the virus. When Craig Thompson says it’s unlikely all 12 teams will be on the same schedule, it’s hard to see a committee getting everyone moving at the same time. Perhaps that isn’t the full scope of the committee; instead, it guides the ones who are ahead of the pack as they venture into the unknown and make sure their advantages don’t get too advantageous. The idea is good, but it’s difficult to see what it looks like in practicality.
What was said: Reduce Conference office operating budget by 18 percent and diminish staff travel to regular-season contests, selected conventions and appropriate professional development seminars. Conference staff salaries will also be frozen and open positions will not be immediately replaced.
What we think: It seems like some of the more significant changes fall on the conference headquarters, as it should. Hopefully, the 18% decrease in the operating budget doesn’t result in staff losing jobs. Eliminating travel except for games and putting a hold on travel for conferences and seminars are the prominent places to start, and it is likely a good portion of that 18% can be found here. Conference brass salaries should also take a cut (if they haven’t already). Freezing staff salaries is another no-brainer. Although putting a hold on hiring does raise a caution flag. If it results in existing staff doing more work and not being paid for it, then it’s not the best solution.
What was said: Freeze officiating fees in all sports.
What we think: Similar to above, making fluctuating costs more fixed at least gives the conference a more stable budget. I don’t know enough about referee salaries to know how much of a raise they get on average each year. I would imagine there are different tiers based on years of experience and hopefully, job performance. Probably not ideal for them but one year is one year. Also, I don’t know enough to know what else goes into officiating fees besides salaries. All in all, I think this is a pretty neutral move without much downside.
What was said: Move in-person coaches’ meetings and the Conference’s 2020 spring and fall, and the 2021 spring meetings, to virtual events.
What we think: This isn’t to diminish the importance of coaches’ meetings, but they are something that can be virtual rather than in person. It’s clear that objective with most of these decisions is to cut costs in obvious places and to lessen unnecessary travel (i.e., anything that isn’t games) is the first place to start.
What was said: Adjust in-person football and basketball media days to virtual events.
What we think: They had already announced this for football weeks, the first or second conference to do so. Doing the same for basketball is fair, safe, and continues to save money. The only unknown about this moving forward is if it will be the new normal in 2021 and beyond, both for safety and distancing as well as cost-cutting for a conference on a budget like the MWC.
What was said: Allow institutions to schedule second non-Division I opponent in men’s basketball (replacing an RPI of 250 or worse).
What we think: This was a small but positive move. While it probably doesn’t help the team being replaced very much, it helps the schools in the MWC. Allowing teams to schedule another non-D1 school likely means a new regional opponent. This cuts down on travel costs and travel risks. Making the stipulation that only a school for a bad RPI means trading out one cupcake team for another, so it’s an even trade competition-wise.
What was said: Utilize a 16-match modified double-round robin schedule in women’s volleyball.
What we think: If nothing else, this takes away two games from the women’s volleyball season, saving some amount of money. It is also safe to assume the schedule will be arranged in a way to minimize travel costs as much as possible. This seems like a minimal change for a minimal gain.
What was said: Reduce conference baseball and softball series from three days to two (double-header and single game).
What we think: If the numbers were released, it’s likely this saves quite a bit of money. It cuts hotel stays by a night and does not reduce the number of games for the respective sports. That’s a big win. It may end up wearing on players as the season goes on, but with a number of 2020 seniors staying on for 2021, perhaps this is also a way to get everyone a good amount of playing time. All in all, this is a creative win by the MWC.
What was said: Eliminate the baseball, men’s and women’s tennis and women’s soccer tournaments.
What we think: This was likely a tough decision but one that could be absorbed for a year. All of these sports have regular-season champions. End of the year conference tourneys are extra games and extra expenses. For these specific sports, it’s almost a guarantee that the conference tournaments don’t bring in any revenue (they likely cost money to hold these events) like the football championship game and men’s and women’s basketball do. Due to this, they get cut for a year. Hopefully, this is only for a year, as it isn’t in the best interest of the athletes long-term.
What was said: Host swimming championship and diving championship at separate venues on MW campuses over three days.
What we think: Looking at the 2020 schedule from the official conference site, the championship event typically lasts four days. Similar to other events below, they are reducing a day to cut down on travel costs. It would be interesting to know what the trade-off is between decreasing a day but increasing two additional venues. Will the venues be dividing by schools or events? Schools would reduce the risk of spreading any potential symptoms. Logistically though, it would make sense to have specific events at each venue. Perhaps that will be decided in the months to come rather than eight months away.
What was said: Reduce men’s and women’s indoor track & field and men’s and women’s golf tournaments from three days to two, and men’s and women’s outdoor track & field from four to three days.
What we think: It’s a good thing that the tournaments aren’t canceled. It may be rushed and added pressure for the scheduling and coaching, but it’s doable and preserves those events and tournaments. They aren’t revenue tournaments, and figuring out a way to keep them is a plus. Depending on how it goes, it would not be a surprise if the new schedules became permanent.
Your turn: What are your thoughts on all of this? Continue the discussion in the comments section.