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Mountain West Armchair Commissioner: Mike

Today, we kick off our summer series!

As you know, the summer can often be devoid of content, especially in May, June, and the first half of July until Media Days. For the past few years, we have tried to do a weekly summer series to mitigate some of that. In 2021, it was the Outside Look series, and last year we learned more about our team in the Why I Write Series. This year, I came up with an idea I’m calling Armchair Commissioner.

Basically, each writer is put in charge of the conference and gets to write about decisions they would make on a number of important topics that a commissioner would face running the Mountain West. I am basing this idea on a blog site I enjoy and something they do every offseason called the Sox Machine Offseason Plan Project.

Note: None of us are trying to replace new Mountain West commissioner Gloria Nevarez, nor should this exercise be seen as a critique of her in any way.

A different writer will post one every Thursday from June through August, but readers can put them in the fan posts, and we will feature them on the main site as well.


What is your opening address about the state of the conference at media days?

“We are moving forward into a new era for the Mountain West Conference. We thank the previous leadership for setting the foundation, and now it is time to build on it. This is a pivotal time for the college sports world and we are determined to not be left in the dust. We will be committed to advancing the prestige of the conference, to winning between the lines and in the classroom, and exploring new opportunities to promote our student-athletes in all sports.”

What are some innovative ways you would attempt to increase revenue for the conference?

I’ll admit, when I posed this question, I felt like it would be a bit easier to identify, but oh well. The conference needs as much money as possible to avoid falling further behind its current pace with Power 5 conference, but also needs to gain an edge over other mid-major conferences. The former commissioner had a “rainy-day” fund that was mentioned and utilized when it came to covid testing in 2020.

The goal is to bring money in for the benefit of the member schools of the conference. Ads and commercials are still tried and true avenues for more money. I think giving as much time to a betting site (such as DraftKings) as they are willing to pay for is a good start. Perhaps even taking that partnership further by having DraftKings sponsor an intro webinar to betting for a small fee, with the conference splitting the profits.

Another thing I want to do is promote a Rivalry Week each season and market the heck out of it to bring viewership to all games for even casual fans to enjoy.

What Olympic sports would you want to prioritize/build up?

Two sports come to mind. for similar reasons. The first would be men’s and women’s Track and Field, and the second would be men’s and women’s lacrosse. The latter is not currently sponsored by the conference, although it appears that 7 MWC schools have lacrosse in some form, but I want to change that. I got the idea from Matt Brown of Extra Points. Adding sports with a specific focus, or promoting certain existing ones can actually increase revenue for schools.

Both T&F and Lacrosse have relatively low expenses. Their fields are low-cost and can be shared with other sports. Also, their men’s and women’s teams can probably share a coach. Most importantly, for schools, these teams field teams with partial scholarship players, meaning some will come to the school to play the sport and end up paying some level of money to the school.

The MWC already has some competitive T&F programs and investing in them more should be both relatively inexpensive and beneficial. Starting Lacrosse teams across the conference could help the conference become a destination for the sport that is gaining popularity.

What two committees would you join and why (pick from the list below)?

  • Transformation Committee
  • Committee on Academics
  • Student-Athlete Advisory Committee
  • Committee on Infractions
  • Oversight Committee
  • Strategic Vision and Planning Committee
  • Student-Athlete Experience Committee

I would pick the Transformation Committee and Strategic Vision and Planning Committee. Craig Thompson may have been divisive while leading the Mountain West, but there is no question he will have a lasting impact on the college football world by being one of the engineers of the new College Football Playoff model. I would want to do the same and be part of the drive for this new phase of college sports. From my understanding (which may not be much), the Transformation Committee leads the charge for reimagining the landscape, changing rules and modernizing sports. Likewise, the SAE Committee looks at amateurism, recruiting, and other financial aid and as the idea of amateurism changes, I want to be involved in the conversation.

Protected Games for each football team: What games would you protect for every team when the new football schedule comes out for the 2026 season? (Current protected games for reference)

I’ll be honest, I want to redo this for 2026 because I didn’t like how it was done to start. While a perfect grouping cannot be attained for every team, there isn’t anything wrong with tweaking and getting closer every three years.

I also considered pods, which would be much easier, but would preserve very few traditional rivalries, which is what I’m trying to promote here. Take a look.

Air Force: Colorado State, Wyoming

Boise State: Fresno State, Nevada

Colorado State: Air Force, Wyoming

Fresno State: Boise State, San Diego State

Hawaii: San Jose State, UNLV

Nevada: Boise State, UNLV

New Mexico: San Diego State, Utah State

San Diego State: Fresno State, New Mexico

San Jose State: Hawaii, Utah State

UNLV: Hawaii, Nevada

Utah State: New Mexico, San Jose State

Wyoming: Air Force, Colorado State

I preserved many traditional rivalries and trophy games with this format. There are some force-fit ones like SJSU/Utah State, New Mexico/SDSU, and New Mexico/SDSU. However, it allows every team to play one traditional rival, with eight rivalry games being played. While not perfect, it’s a big step in the right direction.

Conference Realignment: Assuming the Mountain West will eventually need to expand, who are the top two teams you would choose as replacements? Share a few sentences on why, citing the level of competition, geographical factors, if they join as full members, and how they would factor into the revenue sharing (bad example: Alabama and Notre Dame will join in 2025).

There are a few different options to pursue here. One is reaching into Big Sky country for either the two Dakota schools or the two Montana programs. Another is keeping a foothold in California by bringing in Sacramento State and UC Davis. However, the route I am going to take is dipping into Texas.

I will make a run at SMU and Rice, but am prepared to invite UTEP and North Texas. I am prioritizing establishing a footprint in Texas for recruiting as well as getting the conference into a new state. While neither team would be considered a major addition, they weaken the other mid-major conferences and would be able to compete in the middle of a conference or for a bowl game right away. I would accept them as full members competing in all sports they sponsor.

Bowl Tie-Ins: What are some realistic bowl tie-ins you would attempt to negotiate for the conference (bad example: Sugar Bowl vs. SEC Champ)?

Although I’d like to get rid of bowl tie-ins all together, and I will work on that as commissioner, but upgrading affiliations may be an easier battle to start.

I’ll be honest, I don’t quite know how bowl tie-ins work, but I do know it’s a bidding process. Living in the world of realism, I think we can drop one and hopefully two bowl games and make some modest upgrades. I am prioritizing games against P5 teams, even if I won’t be able to get top teams. Then I’ll attempt to focus on top G5 teams.

The Mountain West has been a backup the past few years with the Guaranteed Rate Bowl. I want to get that bowl full team against either the Big 12 of Big Ten to secure a second bowl against a P5 team. Maybe it becomes more or less the LA Bowl part 2 in terms of a game against a 6/7 win team, but at least it’s a better fate for one of the top two teams in the conference.

Then, I would try to do the same thing to secure the First Responder Bowl to have the same agreement with the ACC, but if that fails, I’d bid on the Boco Raton Bowl for the payout ($900K) and to send a team to Florida every year. It would end up being another G5 team, but I’d talk to the CUSA to try to get one of their top 2 or 3 teams considering they have been good the past few years. I would do a similar thing with the AAC to get a more marquee matchup against the two top mid-major conferences. Then I’d have backup affiliations with the Frisco Bowl or another ESPN bowl based on matchups.

This means I’d drop the Arizona Bowl as quickly as I could and never look back. If I got the second bowl, I’d drop the New Mexico Bowl, but if I couldn’t, I’d attempt to do the same deal with the CUSA and get a better team in there. The Bowl outlook will look like this:

LA Bowl: MWC champ vs middling PAC 12 team

Guaranteed Rate Bowl: MWC runner-up vs. middling Big Ten team

Hawaii Bowl: MWC #3 vs AAC #2 or 3

Potato Bowl: MWC #4 vs MAC #3 or 4

Boco Raton Bowl: MWC #5 vs G5 team (If it’s the First Responder Bowl vs ACC, it moves to #3)

Frisco Bowl: MWC #6 vs G5 team

New Mexico Bowl (back up/last resort)

It’s not a top-notch lineup, but it’s an upgrade over the current format.

Media Deal: What would be your realistic plan for the next media rights deal? Consider dollar amount, total years, team distribution, specific networks, game tv slots, linear tv vs. streaming (bad example the MWC will get 1 billion dollars over 10 years and will get Saturday primetime on ESPN every Saturday)

I want to be able to keep balancing the tension between appealing to the networks to get extra money and appealing to the schools in terms of game times and fan experience. One idea I’ve had for years is to secure fixed times on networks and have teams rotate throughout the year.

The Mountain West Conference is one of only two conferences out west and is valuable to networks in the late-night TV slots on Friday and Saturday evenings. The MWC should lean into this by locking in the Friday and Saturday late-night slots and marketing them, similar to MAC-Nation on Tuesdays on ESPN.

The Friday night games will be coined FS1 Fridays with the Moutain West. While they won’t always be marquee matchups, Saturday late-nights won’t change from how they have been over the years but will feature games on FS1 and CBS Sports. Also, I want to have a weekly afternoon or primetime game on CBS Sports. This will be the CBS Sports Game of the Week and attempt to feature a bigger matchup.

To be fair to teams, I’d like every team to play a home game during the season on both FS1 Friday and the CBS Sports featured game. It allows the scheduling to be balanced and allows teams to be featured by tv networks in the spotlight.

I would hope these carve outs and willingness to embrace the late-night scene allows the conference to squeeze out a few extra million dollars. I have had no issue with the deals with Fox and CBS Sports and want to continue that, although I’d ask CBS Sports to give us priority over their other mid-major games from conferences. I like the idea of shorter deals, somewhere in the 5-7 neighborhood, so let’s call it 6 years and around $400 million, which would come out to $6.06 million per school (excluding Hawaii). Boise State keeps their contract, and while I debated going to a pay scale based on timeslot, I didn’t think that would be fair for most teams in the conference at this point. Combined, the two networks will feature a guaranteed 65 football games (3 a week on CBS Sports and at least 2 a week on FS1).

Also, I debated going into a revenue-sharing model that will likely become popular in a few years. However, I refrained from fully diving into it. Partly because I didn’t have a great idea and partly because I’d think the conference presidents and ADs wouldn’t be for it at this point. Next time though.

Three of the biggest issues appear to be conference realignment, bowl tie-ins, and money from a media deal. Which of the three would you make your number one priority? Why are you choosing that one and provide more detail as to how you would address it?

This was a tough decision, but I’m choosing bowl tie-ins. It seems like it’s the issue that is most in my control. Conference Realignment is undoubtedly the biggest issue, but it’s also the most unpredictable one. Any school is going to leave if they get a Power 5 invite and at this time, it doesn’t make sense to add teams before teams leave.

Anyway, I want to prioritize and reward the teams that are currently in the conference, whoever they may be. I think it upping the ante when it comes to bowl tie-ins is a strong statement to show the college football landscape that the Mountain West is on the attack. There are many bowls available for the taking, so I view it as an easy win (hopefully I’m not wrong) to build conference prestige while still maintaining the ability to enjoy bowl success, which has been a strength of the conference for the past few years.

Looking through the current bowl tie-ins, there are quite a few bowls owned by ESPN that serve as backup bowls against unassigned G5 teams. I see this an area with lots of potential because I can partner up another (G5) conference to pit top teams against each other in order to make a matchup worth seeing, as opposed to the current G5 matchups against also-rans in the conference.

What’s another thing not listed here that the conference could do off the field to enhance its product on the field?

As commissioner, I want to be present more. Maybe I will do a weekly radio show with a different team’s local station every week or something to promote the conference more. Weekly soundbites won’t be an extreme difference-maker, but hearing from the leader of the conference more than a handful of times of year should be a positive development.