Mountain West Conference Commissioner Craig Thompson is smarter than John F. Kennedy.
He’s got to be. It took Kennedy 13 days to end the Cuban Missile Crisis. If a report from The Denver Post yesterday is true, it only took Thompson 10 days to end the equivalent for the Mountain West.
Around 10:30 p.m. on Aug. 17, a nasty rumor hit Twitter.
Sports by Brooks, a sports rumor and gossip site, tweeted that BYU would soon be leaving the Mountain West to move to the Western Athletic Conference for all sports except football, where they would compete as an independent. This came after Utah announced earlier this summer it would be leaving the Frogs’ conference for a Pac-10 position in 2011.
Make no mistake, BYU’s leaked plan was a nuclear weapon aimed at the remaining teams in the Mountain West.
Boise State is scheduled to join the league in 2011, but with BYU gone, no one was sure of status. The conference’s TV network, The Mtn., has yet to turn a profit and might have been unfeasible without the Cougars. Not to mention, if Boise, Utah and BYU were all out, TCU couldn’t have been too far behind.
For much of the next morning, Thompson, the Mountain West and TCU’s futures were all closely linked. TCU was not going to the Big 12 or Pac-10. If The Mtn. collapsed, the Horned Frogs’ only options would have been to move back to Boise’s WAC, where they last played in 2000, or maybe a return to Conference USA, the school’s last home.
The Mtn. began when BYU wanted out of the WAC in 1999. Unhappy about Thompson’s TV deal (who isn’t?), the Cougars were again shaking up the snow globe just to see where the flurries fell.
It was selfish and extreme, and required an equally selfish and extreme move. After all, it was an arms race.
By the afternoon of Aug. 18, Thompson announced Fresno State and Nevada would be joining the conference. Both came from the WAC, and it seemed they were a consolation prize after any chance of an automatic BCS berth walked out of the door with the BYU Cougars.
With Fresno State and Nevada gone, so went the WAC. A conference must have eight teams to be recognized by the NCAA. After Thompson grabbed Fresno and Nevada, the WAC was down to six members for 2011.
Benson said his league will expand again, but the quality of those new members is not likely to be high. And all would have to be Cougar opponents down the line, should they leave.
BYU has not announced their plans yet, but a report in the Denver Post yesterday said multiple sources confirmed the Cougars will return to the Mountain West once they can reach an agreement on the TV argument.
BYU would like to broadcast some of their games on BYU-TV, their own network. The Mtn. will have to allow it, but if the report comes true and the Cougars return it would be a huge win for Thompson.
The league may not have won handily, just as the end of the Missile Crisis was not the end of the Cold War. But in the face of annihilation, survival is victory and Thompson secured the Mountain West’s survival.
Josh Davis is a senior broadcast journalism major from Dallas.