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Mountain West Armchair Commissioner: Toby

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

Throughout the previous seasons the Mountain West Conference has established itself as one of the most consistent conference is terms of stability and the product on the field or court. As realignment has shaken other conferences the Mountain West has kept its core foundation and teams together. The conference has shown more success comparable to similar conferences and we will continue to raise our status and marketable in the future.

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

Revenue comes from sponsors and media deals. While it does seem like selling out, the conference does need more sponsors, for tournaments and rivalry games. Name, image, likeness is not going away, therefore the conference should embrace it. Set up a way for local businesses to partner with athletes to do sponsorships and endorsements. Local businesses have a marketing budget, it may not be a lot, but if the schools or conference can work with athletes to get any NIL it helps the athlete, business, school, and conference.

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

I am going to go with track and field and lacrosse, for completely personal reasons and for the good of the conference. I was a sprinter at Utah State, so track and field would be a sport for me to push. However, the MWC has a great track and field/cross country history. New Mexico is consistently in the top 5 in the country for cross country and track with 12 athletes (5 women and 7 men) earning 15 All- American at the 2023 NCAA Track and Field Outdoor Nationals. It’s not only the Lobos: UNLV had a third-place finish in the shot by Rosa Santana, Emilia Sjostrand from San Jose State took 7th in long jump, Jackson Morris of Colorado State took 10 th in javelin and was part of 3 Rams compete at USA Championships, and former USU Aggie Chari Hawkins took 3 rd in the heptathlon at the US Championship and qualified (again) for the World Championships. Track and cross country are sports resources are limited, men can offer 12.6 scholarships among 20 athletes while women can offer 18 total scholarships with an average team size of 39. This is compared to 85 football scholarships per team. Even a school like Oregon cannot monopolize all of the great track and field athletes with only 12.6 scholarships and a cap of 20 athletes. This should allow the MWC to build their track programs become a conference where athletes want to compete.

The second sport is lacrosse, and yes three of my children play lacrosse. Lacrosse is a fast-growing sport. There are currently 75 men’s lacrosse teams at 127 women’s lacrosse team in D1. For the MWC Air Force is the only team with a current men’s D1 program and Utah is the only PAC 12 men’s lacrosse program. The overwhelming majority of programs are on the East Coast, with Air Force and U of Denver and Utah being the only schools west of Missouri. For women’s lacrosse San Diego State has a team, joining Arizona State, UC Davis, UC Berkeley, Stanford, USC, U of Denver, Colorado, and Oregon as teams west of Missouri. If the MWC conference was to create a lacrosse division they could become an option for every player in the western half of the United State, as Texas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Nebraska, Wyoming Montana, Idaho, and Washington as a state do not have a D1 lacrosse program in either Men’s or Women available for players.

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

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

Call me old school, but athletes and schools do need to focus on degrees and education. We should not have paper degrees like UNC did for their athletes, where athletes did not even need to attend class to get an A and the degree. And the committee on infractions is a joke. Missouri can have a tutor help a couple of football players cheat, so they fire the tutor and remove the players and when they report it to the NCAA they get a bowl ban for reporting it, while the FBI can take coaches and agents to court over pay to play and the NCAA says they cannot find any evidence that money changed hands. I realize it is an uphill battle, but I feel that it is one that needs to be fought.

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)

One of the causalities from the new realignment is the destruction of natural rivalries. Oklahoma and Oklahoma State will not play again, same with Texas-Texas Tech when Oklahoma and Texas go to SEC. The ACC couldn’t put Miami and Florida State in the same division, ditto for UNC and NC State even though they are 10 miles about. I think rivalries are important so I would keep:

  • USU-Boise State
  • Air Force-Colorado State
  • Fresno State-San Jose State
  • Nevada-UNLV
  • I would add Wyoming and Utah State simply because the trophy is the Bridger Rifle.

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).

As soon as BYU announced it was leaving the WCC, I would have been calling Gonzaga, St. Mary’s and San Francisco to see if they wanted to join for basketball and other sports. For football, the American has been weakened I would be looking at their western most teams, Tulsa, SMU, and UTSA. I would be looking at UTEP as a good fit, along with North Texas and Texas State. One nice thing about the MWC is how close the teams are geographically. Texas is a hotbed for recruiting and every team recruits Texas athletes, so it would be nice to get a foothold in Texas and Oklahoma for recruiting and it expands the conference slightly but does not make travel an issue for teams. The time to go after some of these teams was when BYU and Houston made the announcement they were leaving. The MWC would have looked better than the American for SMU and UTSA when the top teams were all leaving and the uncertainty of the WCC when BYU left would have had San Francisco and St. Mary’s looking for better options and if those two had left, Gonzaga would have needed a new home. The MWC does need a couple more good quality teams to boost the conference, I am not sure the Montana and South Dakota schools do that if they were to move up.

I did propose a realignment solution for the MWC and PAC-12, it is still an option.

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)?

I would be calling the Holiday Bowl. I know the word was realistic, but this could be. The Holiday Bowl has sued UCLA for not playing the 2021 game. It then did not pay Oregon or the PAC-12 $2.45 million for the 2022 saying it applied that money to the loss of revenue for the 2021 game. The PAC-12 released a statement saying “Despite the Pac-12’s good faith efforts to find an amicable and fair resolution, the Holiday Bowl filed a lawsuit this week seeking to leverage for its own financial gain the global COVID-19 pandemic which led to the cancellation of the 2021 Holiday Bowl. The Holiday Bowl is now also refusing to pay the fees it owes the Pac-12 for our member institution’s participation in the 2022 Holiday Bowl, in clear breach of our agreement. The Pac-12 plans to vigorously defend against the lawsuit, which is wholly without merit, and to seek the monies owed by the Holiday Bowl under our agreement.” (Bold added). There is currently a divide between the PAC-12 and the Holiday Bowl, and I would be calling to see what deal could be made.

I have been very critical of the MWC bowl games, as I feel they are pathetic. If the conference is goingto grow, it cannot be playing one bowl game against P5 opponents, the LA bowl against the PAC 12. Also, the MWC needs to be winning the games against the MAC and C-USA teams it plays. I would go for:

Holiday Bowl MWC #1 vs ACC

LA Bowl MWC #2 vs PAC 12

First Responder Bowl MWC #3 vs SEC

Fenway Bowl MWC #4 vs AAC

Idaho Potato Bowl MWC #5 vs MAC

Hawaii Bowl Hawaii, MWC #6 vs CUSA

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 would look for a 6-8 year deal, hopefully in the realm of $9-$10 million per school. This would require Boise State to give up their exclusive TV deal. I know $9 million seems a little high, but you could argue that on the back end of the deal, as TV contracts go up that it would be a deal for the provider. The conference gets a little more up front for the schools and the provider gets a little more for their value at the end of the deal. Streaming would need to be included, and the conference needs to come up with ways to improve their marketability. Being on the west coast that is difficult, even for the PAC 12. It could mean odd start times or non-Saturday games. The conference could include that no schools will play an FCS team, thereby increasing the competition of the schools. The conference needs to look at having their entire package with one company, they cannot keep making their fans try to determine which channel each game is going to be on and have it change week to week. Fans should expect that they pay for one package/streaming site and can watch all of the conference games.

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?

I would make money from the media deal the number one priority. The reason why teams are leaving in realignment is due to money. Did USC and UCLA join the Big 10 for geographical reasons, really? If you can improve the media deal and improve the money, then teams have less incentive to leave. The teams in the conference only get $4 million a year from the media deal, and the total payout is about $6.6 million. The American gets over $10 million and the Big 12 gets north of $30 million. If you want schools to stay, the revenue has to be higher.

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

The conference can do a challenge with the other conferences. For example, the could do a football challenge with the AAC, say on week 2-3 of the football schedule. The previous year champion plays champion, runner-up plays runner up, 3 rd place plays 3 rd place and so on. On odd years the MWC odd teams and the AAC even teams host and on even years the MWC even teams and AAC odd teams host. There could be a trophy which the winning conference gets and could display at different games and at the conference championship. The conference could do a similar thing in basketball with either/both the AAC and WCC conferences. There could be tv money involved as well.

Another thing a conference team could do, is a have a show similar to hard knocks but for college football during spring ball. Once March Madness is over there is not a lot of nation-wide college sports interest until the Road to Omaha, so the conference could set up a tv series comparable to Hard Knocks for one or more college programs.