SBD/July 28, 2011/Colleges

Mountain West Struggling To Keep Up Financially With BCS Conferences

Thompson says there has been no further talk of MWC expansion
Mountain West Conference Commissioner Craig Thompson "rang a few alarm bells Wednesday about the financial struggles facing his league in the shifting sands of college sports," saying it "cannot continue as it is," according to Brent Schrotenboer of the SAN DIEGO UNION-TRIBUNE. MWC member schools this year "each will get about $1.5 million" as part of a 10-year, $120M TV contract that started in '06. Thompson said that when the contract ends, it "might not get much better because Mountain West markets only cover about 5 percent of the U.S. population." The Pac-12's deal with Fox and ESPN "will mean about $20 million per member school," and "such a disparity is why Utah and Texas Christian decided to leave the conference for the Pac-12 and Big East, respectively." The MWC is "on the verge of earning automatic access to BCS bowl games for 2012 and 2013, just like the elite six leagues." But that "may only mean an extra $1 million or so per school, which is dwarfed by the disparity in television revenue between the haves and have-nots." Thompson said that he "hopes private boosters come through for member schools and that each school's chief executive stays committed to athletics." Schrotenboer notes the MWC "has had conversations with Conference USA about forming a giant super league," while another idea is "having their champions play each other, with the winner possibly getting a berth" in a BCS game. Thompson said that his conference "wasn't interested in combining the two leagues," but said that the latter idea "might 'dramatically' change the structure of college football's postseason." He added that there "have been no further talks about the Mountain West expanding beyond next year, when the league loses TCU but adds Fresno State, Nevada and Hawaii in football" (SAN DIEGO UNION-TRIBUNE, 7/28).

GEOGRAPHICAL DISADVANTAGE
: ESPN.com's Andrea Adelson noted Thompson yesterday described the "skyrocketing costs of funding athletic departments, increasing tuition and an inability to compete for TV dollars the way the bigger conferences can." Thompson: "We're in a position that our limitation on television sets is an issue. Unless tens of millions of people move to Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico in the coming years, we are who we are. The commitment has to remain with the board of directors that there is support from universities to fund athletics." He added, "In some cases, athletics are getting cut more than other departments. ... The ultimate challenge is to keep up." Meanwhile, Thompson is "eager to see the NCAA reform its enforcement policies, noting punishments are mere 'speed bumps.'" Thompson: "Attendance is up, revenue is up, television exposure is up ratings are skyrocketing but at what price? It's frustrating, borderline disgusting that institutions that cut corners and cheat are able to win at that level and not pay a price. ... There have got to be some debilitating sanctions placed on people or it's going to continue" (ESPN.com, 7/27).
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