The other day, it was 25 degrees with snow flurries in Colorado Springs, Colo., headquarters of the Mountain West Conference when its commissioner, Craig Thompson, talked with the Star-Advertiser by phone in his first extensive comments on the University of Hawaii’s upcoming move to the league.
It was the kind of weather that the commissioner said makes him want to check out the MWC’s new and most distant outpost sooner rather than later.
UH will join the MWC as its 10th football member in 2012.
"I think it (Hawaii as a football-only member) is a win-win for everybody," Thompson said. "I’m very excited about his model."
Q: Have you been to Hawaii?
Thompson: Once, when my alma mater (Minnesota) played Hawaii and got beat (17-3 in 1997). I remember … driving back from the stadium to the hotel everybody was talking about Princess Diana had died.
Q: Were you surprised to be approached about football-only membership for Hawaii?
Thompson: I don’t know that I was expecting it, but I was not surprised. I thought it made a lot of sense. I had conversations on several occasions with Jim (Donovan, UH athletic director) and Dennis (Farrell, Big West Conference commissioner). And I thought it was a very workable model."
Q: Surprised how it came together so fast?
Thompson: No, I’m not (surprised), not anymore. I think if I’ve learned one thing — and I’ve been in conference offices since 1983 — is this was the strangest six months in my previous 27 years. Nothing surprises me (now). Geography seems to be somewhat out the window. But geography plays such a huge part of the University of Hawaii just because the islands aren’t going to get any closer to the mainland and vice versa."
Q: (That said) what do you consider the MWC footprint, so to speak?
Thompson: I would think Texas is the extreme from the eastern front. I think geography plays more of a role in the MWC than maybe it does in other leagues because there is such a vast difference. There is a long way, in some regards, from here to there.
Q: Houston and Texas-El Paso are two Texas schools that have been prominently speculated upon, are they being looked at or considered (for expansion)?
Thompson: I don’t think there is anybody that has been targeted at this juncture, but certainly institutions in Texas are of interest.
Q: How has the MWC changed in the past decade?
Thompson: "I think the biggest change has been in the principals. We’ve had, I’m guessing, 25 athletic directors, 25 board of directors over the eight or nine schools in that time frame. That’s a lot of turnover. That’s a lot of change. The philosophies are different.
I’ll give you an example: In 2004, eight presidents said willingly and knowingly, leave ESPN because we don’t want to play basketball games at 10 at night or 10 o’clock on Sunday morning or, certainly not on Tuesday and Wednesdays. And, now there are some people in the league that said, "you know it might be worth looking at non-Saturdays," which is a big departure. Ninety-five percent of our football games are on Saturday. Ninety-five percent of our football games are televised. But because not everybody who wants to see those games can see those games, the trade-off is playing on a network that is seen by 100 million but playing a football game on a Tuesday night which is just a nonstarter. When it is Oct. 1 and 6 o’clock and the sun goes down it is cold here. People aren’t going to go to a football game on a Tuesday night in the Mountain West.