FORT COLLINS — So what happens, you ask Craig Thompson, if the Big 12 comes back?
What then? What happens if Boise State gets poached? Or San Diego State? Or both? What about the CSU Rams? What about the Mountain West as we know it?
“That’s why I say that four-to-five-year period (coming up) is going to be really important,” the longtime MW commissioner told me. “Because I don’t know the answer to that, absolutely, positively.
“If an institution in the Mountain West has a chance to garner $35 million or $40 million in TV rights versus $3 million or $4 million, I think I’ve answered the question.
“So what we’re trying to do is build the best product that we have here. Maybe that (Power 5) call doesn’t come. So what have we done to establish ourselves as one of the top-6 ranked conferences in FBS play? That is our initiative.”
And yet when the league’s presidents and athletic directors met recently to discuss expansion, to act upon that initiative, to talk about building on that product, they … passed.
“We’re going to stand pat,” Thompson told reporters at Mountain West basketball media day. “We like our makeup (and) are very interested in building and growing those 12 brands.”
And that, ladies and gents, is why so many CSU fans want out. Why it feels as if the Rams are stuck. And why Boise State, which visited Canvas Stadium on Saturday night in a massive tilt for both limping football programs, has had one foot out the door for years now.
There is no plan. No foresight. No aggression. No urgency. None. Even though it stands to reason that the Big 12 might want a western travel partner to slot next to BYU, one of that circuit’s four new additions. Maybe two western partners. Maybe more.
“From my perspective, the real play is, ‘How do we position ourselves for four or five years from now?’” Thompson continued.
Here’s a thought, one that might help keep the Broncos happy while also protecting your britches if Boise bolts:
Why not get your football teams in front of Texas eyeballs? And, more specifically, Texas high school recruits?
When the Rams’ athletic department website in 2018 asked fans to vote on the program’s all-time football team from 1968-2017, high school products from the Lone Star State made up three of the starting 22 selections.
Fun fact: Among individual states, only Colorado (seven) and California (six) placed more in the group. No other state was represented by more than two.
Texas schools, heading into the weekend, accounted for five slots among the Sagarin Top 50. No, none of the options on the table are a like-for-like with TCU. But if you’re still trying to figure out why Thompson pumped the brakes on football expansion rather than throw a bone at Texas-San Antonio or at Texas-El Paso, two scrappy middleweights with a combined record of 14-1 as of Friday, join the club.
“I’ve had hours of conversations with our television partners, CBS and FOX,” Thompson said. “’What does this institution do? What does that number mean?’ … ‘Are you the key thing in that area?’ Those are the types of questions. It’s value-driven.”
The logic behind doing nothing now? Let’s keep what little television money we have. We don’t need more mouths to feed.
You get that. The ceiling is low. So are the broadcast payouts. You get that, too.
The goal is to be the best of the rest. Much as we justifiably mock the Pac-12 as Luxury Suite Larry Scott left it, the space between the dregs of the Power 5 and the cream of the Mountain West isn’t a gap — it’s a chasm.
The metrics say the MW as currently composed is the No. 6 football conference in the country. But it’s there largely because the Broncos and Aztecs are still a part of it, the tide that lifts the other boats.
Without that tide, then what?
“I don’t want to disparage (anyone). It’s not Oklahoma (compared to its Big 12 peers). Now Boise State has had the most success of anybody in this league, historically,” Thompson said. “But there are other (conference members) winning championships, too.”
In a 12-team College Football Playoff field, maybe that means something. But even that’s not locked down anymore. The Athletic reported late last week that the three commissioners in The Big Ten-Pac-12-ACC “Alliance” are keen on an 8-team CFP bracket in which the Power 5 leagues are all guaranteed a spot for their respective champions — a business arrangement which would be more advantageous to the Pac-12 and put the squeeze on the likes of the Mountain West or AAC.
Last fall, Oregon won the Pac-12 title with a No. 25 CFP ranking, behind No. 22 San Jose State, the Mountain West champ. But since the first CFP poll came out in 2014, only one MW squad has finished higher than No. 20 — Boise State in 2019 (No. 19).
“I’m still convinced that playoff (expansion) will happen,” Thompson said. “I’m not sure what the exact number will be. And (I’m) absolutely not sure when it will take effect.”
On all fronts, presume the worst. Instead of opening doors in Texas, where the football pipeline never dries up, instead of looking to get games played in the Central time zone, the Mountain West decided to “stand pat.”
College football realignment is a shark’s game. A league can tread water for only so long before it sinks.