Tuesday, July 22, 2008 | 4:32 p.m.
If the Pac-10 winds up calling Craig Thompson about its soon-to-be vacant commissioner's position, the Mountain West Conference chief said he'd be all ears.
Or at least some ears.
"I imagine I would listen," Thompson said after his annual state of the conference address at Green Valley Ranch Station today.
Don't get your hopes up, MWC fans. Thompson said he has yet to hear from anybody on the West Coast about the opening that will develop when Tom Hansen steps down after 26 years.
The bigger issue for MWC fans is that when Hansen quits, it will open the door for the Pac-10 to add two members and hold a football playoff game, resulting in even more big money. One rumor making the rounds is that it could invite BYU and Utah to make it the Pac-12.
If that happens, Thompson -- provided he's not the one doing the inviting -- would know what it's like to walk in Karl Benson's shoes at Western Athletic Conference headquarters.
----- It's hard to believe it has been 10 years since the Mountain West presidents bolted the WAC and left Benson holding the bag. Thompson said the Mountain West is in good shape, mostly because Utah played in the BCS in 2004. (Apparently the statue of limitations on BCS appearances runs five years.) He also said the Utes have sold 26,000 season tickets, the Mountain West had five bowl teams last year (proving it pays to create your own postseason games) and that it's now possible for a MWC team to qualify for the BCS with an 11-1 record, although none has ever done so. MWC schools are spending lots of money on new facilities. (But not UNLV, which doesn't have two nickels to rub together.) Thompson also mentioned Brian Urlacher, Mike Anderson and Ryan Moore, the UNLV golfer. And that the 49ers wasted the top pick in the NFL draft on Alex Smith (although he might not have said "wasted.") Oh yeah, and that Wyoming won the WNIT in women's basketball a couple of years ago and BYU won three national championships in women's cross country. I'm not sure The Ohio State University would be impressed by any of this. Or, for that matter, Fresno State, which just won the NCAA baseball title.
----- Thompson's spin doctoring aside, he also kinda, sorta defended himself by mentioning that only one charter president and one charter athletic director from a decade ago are still around and that it has been a challenge to work with all these new faces. But then he canceled it out by saying the newcomers are all solid people with fresh ideas. Such as finagling a spot in the Humanitarian Bowl in Boise, which the MWC is working on now that the ACC apparently wants out.
----- By the way, there is nothing remotely humanitarian about playing a bowl game in Boise during the dead of winter.
----- Yesterday it was a bad idea. Today, it's not so bad. Bob Arum, the boxing promoter, would love the Mountain West. Playing football games on Thursday night was one of the reasons that BYU and the seven dwarfs (oops, almost forget TCU) dumped ESPN to ultimately create their own television network. But now that most major conferences are playing on Thursday, the MWC is taking credit for being a pioneer. Thursday night is the new Monday Night Football for college teams, Thompson said, affecting his best Lewis & Clark impression. "It wasn't as well accepted by our fan base but I think it has worked." While I agree, there probably are parents with school kids and roosters in Fort Collins who still think otherwise.
------ Thompson said the MWC may even play games on CBS in the not-too-distant future. That would be huge. If it happens, they'll probably be regional games that start at 9 or 10 a.m. That would be not so huge. What was it that Pete Townshend said? Meet the new boss, same as the old boss. "We're not there yet," Thompson said as the media stifled a yawn and wondered how in the heck do you get a cab in Laramie at 8:15 a.m..
------ Any and all wacky TV decisions aside, Thompson is still a nice guy who doesn't hold grudges (or I'd be dead.) And his hair is still perfect.
The big difference between a school like Notre Dame and one like Wyoming is that at Notre Dame, they wake up echoes. At Wyoming, they wake up fans who have had too much to drink.
But I mean that it a good way.