Mountain West Media Days are behind us, and there were some interesting topics discussed, although not as much as other years. Far and away, the most interesting topic was how the conference is handling their covid protocols this year. See below for a recap of the big discussions from last week, as well as some thoughts about them.
Craig Thompson was firm and straight to the point when it came to how the conference was handling positive covid tests this year.
Things will basically be back to the pre-pandemic protocol for those players (and on the field staff, too, one would think). They will not have to get tested and will be able to practice and play with no restrictions each week, eliminating a huge barrier in preparation for games each week.
On the other hand, those who have not been vaccinated will have to undergo weekly testing during the season, and if someone tests positive, they will be subject to contact tracing. Another change from 2020 is that schools will have to pay for tests this year rather than the conference. To make the stakes even higher, Thompson stated that another change will be that games lost due to positive cases will not be canceled or rescheduled like they were in 2020. Instead, if a team is unable to play, they will have to forfeit the game. Thompson stated this was because a vaccine is now available.
This will affect all teams but not all teams equally. It was reported at media days that 7 of 12 teams have at least 80% of players vaccinated with at least one dose. According to coaches who were interviewed, UNLV and Wyoming are confirmed to be over that threshold. As for other coaches who revealed if they are among the 7 or among the 5, Utah State is close and expects to be over that threshold by the start of the season. Boise State “has a lot of room to grow in that area.”
Overall, the much (and deservedly) criticized Thompson is two for two in handling pandemic protocols. Last year he found ways to get consistent testing and revealed that the MWC had a “rainy-day fund” that produced enough money for the conference to cover testing costs for sports to play. This year, the responsibility is pushed to schools (or even players) as seen fit. With a vaccine available, it makes sense that the conference would no longer cover the costs for all the teams.
This isn’t a big reveal, but it was nice to hear Thompson’s thoughts as he was on the expansion committee, and it is assumed he played some kind of role in developing the proposed plan. Below is a bullet point recap of what Thompson had to say:
- He likes it, and it helps the MWC conference. Teams can play for a national championship, and it prioritizes the conference championships.
- Sees a possibility for two “Group of 5” teams to get into the 12-team playoff; cites 2020 season as an example of that.
- Some concerns about the number of games being played in playoff expansion.
- If it’s approved in September, guessing the new format will occur in four years at the end of the current cycle. It could be done before that, but lots of factors with the current playoff contract.
- American vs. Mountain West: MWC has a deeper conference. Nice to have surprise teams but hard without the nationally relevant team.
- Relationship with Boise State: Direct conversations with President Trump. He has been on zoom calls with the new AD but has yet to meet face to face. He has heard similar things from him and imagines the case is the same for the other 11 teams. No issue (at least publicly) with each school trying to put themselves in the best position to succeed.
- Conference expansion: Lack of options out west. It has not been a priority or focus the past few years.
This seemed like a lot of positive spins, but nothing is entirely out of line here. It would be nice to know if two G5 teams would have gotten into a 12-team playoff last year, but what will voters have to say about that? Maybe the MWC does have a deeper conference, but it’s hard to argue that the AAC doesn’t have the top team the past few years, and regardless, they take care of business. Plus, public perception counts for a lot (see the SEC for an example of that). He seemed the most honest about the timeline for playoff expansion. And the talk on Boise State isn’t anything that wasn’t already known or assumed. He will play nice, and they (like every other school) will keep their options open. Neither side has much bargaining power at the moment.
It’s too bad this news broke more later in the week. While rumors were floating around on Thursday about Texas and Oklahoma preparing to leave the Big 12 for the SEC, no one knew how substantial the rumors were at the time. Thompson was asked about it and said he and other commissioners were texting one another trying to figure out if anyone knew anything. Now that it seems likely, it opens up a world of speculation.
The question for the purposes of this article is, will realignment trickle down to the Mountain West? There are a few possibilities of what could happen in the years or months to come, each of them as unlikely as the next.
- The Big 12 poaches a few schools from the Mountain West to replace Texas and Oklahoma.
- The Big 12 poaches a few schools from the AAC to replace Texas and Oklahoma, who in turn poaches schools from the Mountain West.
- The Mountain West, along with other conferences, go on the offensive and poach the remaining Big 12 schools, bolstering their rankings.
- The Mountain West and American combine forces to form of new best of the rest conference.
- Or the most likely conclusion, nothing changes at all for the Mountain West. Regardless, either the Big 12 is weakened, or they will dissolve. Both of these scenarios make it more likely that the Mountain West is better positioned to be one of the top 6 conferences come playoff expansion time.