In case you have been living under a rock, there will be no football played in the Mountain West Conference in the accursed year of 2020. No one wanted this decision, and with the way things are going in the country, it was almost sure to be an inevitable decision. With that said, it doesn’t mean the timing was right or that some of the outcomes since the news occurred were unavoidable.
Many people, included those on this website, critiqued the MWC’s quick decision, choosing an odd time to get ahead of the curve compared to other conferences in the FBS. They didn’t have to make the decision now, for reasons which will be explained below. However, for different reasons explained further below, perhaps the Mountain West leaders and its member schools felt like they did have to make the decision now.
Staggering the cancelations across the FBS
Unofficially, this is the second time the Mountain West had made a decision among the first wave of conferences. They were leaders of the pack in announcing their media days would be held virtually instead of in person. On the other hand, they were among the middle or last to announce virtual media days were postponed indefinitely. Then, they seemed content in going into a wait-and-see mode when it came to delaying the start of the season and outlaying a model for playing this season that had less out of conference games. Their hesitant approach made a lot of sense (more on that later), which made their next announcement just five days later, all the more confusing. Waiting for Power 5 schools to cancel or adjust non-conference games made complete sense; pulling the plug on the season before every single Power 5 conference is a weird time to decide to get ahead of the curve. Mainly because it can lead to a few unfavorable outcomes, one of which has already happened.
Four days after the Mountain West announced, Fresno State started linebacker and pre-season defensive player of the year Justin Rice made his. Rice announced he was entering the transfer portal as a grad transfer, electing to attempt to play this season in hopes to continue boosting his NFL draft stock. Had the MWC relied on their patented wait-and-see approach, this likely would have never happened.
Let’s imagine another scenario, one where Mountain West members and leadership have set plans for a few different options, but are content with waiting to see how the playing field shakes out. When the MAC announces they aren’t playing football this fall, the MWC stands pat. When the B1G and PAC-12 announce they are going to pause fall sports and try again in the spring, the MWC releases a statement saying, “We are aware of the recent decisions made by conference peers this week. Player safety remains our number one priority, but we are waiting to make the no-sports decision until we absolutely have to. We are prepared for any scenario but are hopeful some games can still be played.” Then, a week or a month goes on, and two of the four remaining conferences (SEC, Big 12, ACC, AAC) also announce they aren’t playing. At this time, the Mountain West can issue their postponed season statement they’ve had ready to go.
Does this hypothetical situation change anything? Potentially yes.
By being one of the first conferences to announce no football, the Mountain West opened itself up for players to jump ship in favor of teams and conferences who are actually playing football. The obvious counter-argument is that not every player can transfer to a playing team. There aren’t enough scholarships to go around. For your average John Doe, nothing really changes. For pre-season DPOY Justin Rice, teams with an extra spot or two short on linebacker depth are sure to come calling.
Maybe it won’t matter. The PAC-12 canceling their fall season a day after the Mountain West surely had them breathing a sigh of relief, and if the six remaining conference do the same, Rice or similar players will have no place to transfer anyway. But if you’re the MWC, why put yourself in a position for something like this to happen?
The Mountain West didn’t have to cancel their season ahead of every other conference doing so. Except, unless they felt they did, because...
It always comes down to money.
And the MWC doesn’t have as much. At least not compared to six other conferences (five of which have the “power” designation and the sixth should at least be called a “strong” conference), four of which have announced they will still attempt to play football this fall.
No one is coming right and out and saying it, but the Mountain West Conference and its member schools may not have had enough money to play this season. This tweet states one school would stand to lose almost $1 million more to play rather than sit out. It’s not too hard to imagine most, if not all, Group of 5 schools being in a similar situation.
The financial concerns seem to be two-fold; increased expenses, and decreased revenue.
The decrease in revenue stems from lack of out of conference games. Not getting money from this year’s Power 5 payday games is killing the school’s athletic budgets for many schools. Schools like New Mexico or San Jose State (or really all of them) are on a fixed income and are counting on those $1-2 million games to inject lots of cash into their annual operating budget. Without it, money gets tight, and salaries and other expenses get harder to figure out. This was already on display with losing revenue from the canceled NCAA tourney. Coaches and other staff were furloughed at schools. How much more will that be happening now without football? If Nevada’s Friday evening news dump was any indication, a lot more. And that’s before even considering the increased expenses which would have taken place.
Weekly testing is expensive. Weekly testing for an entire group of people, say like a football team, is extremely expensive. The writers over at RedCupRebellion tried to calculate how much money it would be over the course of a whole season and came up with something around $511,035. And that’s just football. Add in other fall sports and get to whatever number you want. Although news on Saturday with new SalivaDirect testing may be changing that number, it’s fair to say most schools would not be able to find extra money when they were already slashing expenses without money from their payday games. Money talks, and in this situation, it seemed to be screaming.
All of this to say, many can and will continue to critique the Mountain West being quick to end talk of a football season (including us most likely). But if no one else plays football and a conference like the MWC couldn’t afford to play the adjusted version of a season, then ripping the ban-aid off as quickly as possible may not have been the worst move they’ve made in the past twenty years.