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With possible expansion on the horizon, the face of collegiate athletics could be changing

SHARE With possible expansion on the horizon, the face of collegiate athletics could be changing
MWC commissioner Craig Thompson says it's crucial his league has a "Plan B."

MWC commissioner Craig Thompson says it’s crucial his league has a “Plan B.”

Susan Walsh, Associated Press

During last month's BCS meetings in Scottsdale, Ariz., the nation's conference commissioners and athletic directors convened amid reports and speculation that college football was on the brink of a major facelift.

As it turned out, the meetings didn't produce any earth-shattering announcements about conference expansions or defections.

Nevertheless, change appears to be inevitable.

Both the Big Ten and the Pac-10 are studying expansion possibilities, and, if they do expand, it would trigger a domino effect that could impact every conference, including the Mountain West.

MWC commissioner Craig Thompson, who attended those BCS meetings, wonders what's next.

"Nobody is laying their cards on the table at this point. There's a lot of speculation, a lot of talk. This is all pretty premature," Thompson told the Deseret News. "There could be sweeping changes. There might be minimal change. There might be no change."

Among the scenarios being bandied about include possible big changes for the MWC:

The Big Ten adds Missouri from the Big 12 while Utah of the MWC and Colorado of the Big 12 move to the Pac-10. The Big 12 replaces Missouri and Colorado by picking up BYU and TCU from the MWC.

The Big Ten grabs Missouri, Rutgers from the Big East, and Nebraska from the Big 12 while the Pac-10, looking to become a 12-team league, welcomes Utah and Colorado.

What happens if the Pac-10 and/or the Big 12 raids the MWC?

"We've talked about some things. You'd better have a Plan B," Thompson said. "There's not a sheet of paper with Plan A or Plan B. But theoretically, and philosophically, there are various scenarios we're ready to implement."

This week, Thompson is attending annual meetings with the league's athletic directors and other administrators. The topic of the changing landscape of college football is bound to come up, either formally or informally. Thompson will meet with the presidents of all nine MWC institutions for annual meetings on June 6-8.

"We've got regular business to conduct," Thompson said. "I would say there will be a lot of conversations about 'what ifs,' that sort of thing."

With television contracts expiring around the country, conferences are looking to strengthen themselves and position themselves for a potentially lucrative future. Changes could come relatively soon.

The MWC, Thompson said, is bracing for — and planning for — whatever may happen.

"That's all you can do. You're simultaneously proactive and reactive," Thompson said. "You've got to prepare for and look at what makes you better. What do we do if this scenario develops? Or if these things happen? Where are you going to go?"

Like other conferences, the MWC is looking at possible expansion, too.

"The end game is all the same. If there's an institution, or institutions, that can bring you more revenue, grow your enterprise and improve your conference, then you'll look at expansion," Thompson said. "I think everybody's crunching those numbers and running those models right now. No determinations have been made as to whether that will happen or not.

"We're in the same boat. Is there an institution, or institutions, that make us better? We've been looking at models. We've been running numbers. We've been talking about, 'Are we better at 10 (members)?' Would we be better at 12? Twelve really hasn't gained much traction.

"I think there's some sentiment and feelings of where these schools were 11 years ago in a 16-team, four-quadrant (Western Athletic Conference)," Thompson said. "It didn't make sense for them. We really haven't spent a lot of time on anything other than philosophically talking about 10."

The MWC last expanded in 2005, growing from eight members to nine, when it added TCU, which has obviously heightened the national profile of the conference, thanks to the Horned Frogs' impressive performance in football.

"We're in the exact same position now," Thompson said. "We added TCU solely and independently because they were a great addition. They brought a lot to the league.

"They've helped us grow and made us better. That was in the same time frame when schools left the Big East to go to the ACC and then the Big East picked up Conference USA schools. Everybody was moving around. We didn't have to add TCU. We did because they made us better."

e-mail: jeffc@desnews.com