Craig Thompson, Mountain West Conference commissioner, stands next to Utah State quarterback Logan Bonner (1) who kisses the trophy after defeating San Diego State during an NCAA college football game for the Mountain West Conference Championship, Saturday, Dec. 4, 2021, in Carson, Calif. (AP Photo/John McCoy)
COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. – Mountain West Conference Commissioner Craig Thompson announced today his decision to step down effective December 31, 2022, following nearly 24 years at the helm of the Conference.
“My one remaining priority was expansion of the College Football Playoff and viable access for the Mountain West,” said Thompson. “I take considerable pride in my committed engagement to this effort over the past two-and-a-half decades and look forward to the finalization of those details in the coming months. With CFP expansion accomplished and having invested almost a third of my life in the Mountain West, the time is now right for me to conclude my tenure and allow the Conference to continue its momentum under new leadership.”
“It has been an honor to be part of the Mountain West Conference and direct its growth since 1998, the year in which the Conference was formed,” said Thompson. “To work with our conference staff and the leadership of our member institutions through the years as we have pursued our collective vision has been a rewarding experience. I am grateful to every person and institution who has been a part of our journey and I wish them—and the Conference—the very best in the years ahead.”
Thompson, 66, is the only Commissioner in the history of the Mountain West Conference, which officially began operations in January 1999 and was uniquely the second NCAA Division I conference Thompson launched. Under his leadership, the Conference negotiated nearly $600 million in television revenue to support its member schools, conference teams have participated in five Bowl Championship Series (BCS)/College Football Playoff (CFP) bowl games, as well as six inaugural bowl contests, and Thompson led successful member expansion efforts over the years to strengthen the Conference.
“The entire Mountain West Conference owes a debt of gratitude to Craig for his selfless service over the history of our conference,” said University of New Mexico President Garnett Stokes, Chair of the Conference Board of Directors. “His fingerprints are on every accomplishment and every initiative we have undertaken, and he has positioned the Conference to continue to be among the nation’s elite. We look forward to celebrating Craig this fall and during our 25thanniversary year, and although his departure will leave a void we are grateful that Craig will be available as a consultant to the MWC as we navigate the changes taking place in college athletics. We wish Craig and Carla and their children all the very best.”
“Craig has provided important leadership to the MWC since its inception,” said UNLV President Keith Whitfield, Vice-Chair of the Conference Board of Directors. “We are stronger because of his work as we go forward into a quickly changing landscape in the NCAA and the College Football Playoff discussions.”
A 43-year veteran of athletic administration, Thompson has spent all but eight of those years sitting in a commissioner’s chair, making him the only active FBS commissioner with more than 30 years of experience leading a multi-sport conference. Throughout his career, Thompson has been an integral part of the national landscape in intercollegiate athletics, holding many prestigious posts on NCAA and sport-specific national committees. Thompson currently sits on the CFP Management Committee while also serving as a member of the College Football Officiating Board of Managers, LLC. Additionally, he recently closed out a second stint as a member of the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Committee. His first five-year term from 1995-2000 culminated with him serving as Chair of the committee from July 1, 1999 to September 1, 2000.
Over his career, Thompson has also been a member of the Executive Committee and the Director’s Cup Committee of the National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics (NACDA), as well as the governing NCAA Council and various Council subcommittees. In addition, he has played a prominent role in hosting numerous men’s and women’s NCAA postseason basketball tournaments in St. Louis, Atlanta, New Orleans and Denver. Prior to his current role, Thompson served as the commissioner of the Sun Belt Conference for nearly eight years and as the only commissioner of the American South Conference prior to the merger of those two leagues in 1991.
As conference realignment spread throughout the collegiate landscape a decade ago, Thompson positioned the Mountain West for the future with the additions of Fresno State and the University of Nevada on July 1, 2012, and San José State University and Utah State University on July 1, 2013. The University of Hawai‘i also joined the league as a football-only member on July 1, 2012, while Colorado College became a member in women’s soccer on July 1, 2014.
Thompson’s leadership and vision have helped the Conference enhance its television revenue and exposure. In January 2020, the Mountain West announced a $270 million, six-year media-rights agreement with CBS and FOX Sports. Beginning in 2020-21 and running through 2025-26, football and men’s basketball games will be televised on CBS, CBS Sports Network, Paramount Plus, FOX, FS1 and FS2. FOX Sports also will have exclusive rights to the Mountain West Football Championship game, which will be televised annually on the FOX family of networks.
Thompson has been instrumental in strengthening the position of the Mountain West in the college football landscape – both in the previous BCS format and in the current CFP structure. In 2006, he spearheaded an effort that resulted in better access for the MW and more than doubled the annual BCS revenue on an annual basis for non-automatic-qualifying conferences. With the evolution to the new 12-team CFP format the Conference’s annual postseason revenue will have quadrupled from the initial BCS distribution levels.
While at the Sun Belt Conference, he spent the majority of his time addressing national trends and challenges in intercollegiate athletics, television exposure, issues relating to conference membership, and promoting corporate involvement. In 1997-98, the Sun Belt instituted a comprehensive sportsmanship policy, which earned Thompson designation as a 1998 Sports Ethics Fellow by the Institute for International Sport. Under Thompson’s leadership, the Sun Belt was active in expansion as it continued to strengthen its posture nationally, adding Florida International University and the University of Denver.
Prior to its merger with the Sun Belt, Thompson served as the first and only commissioner of the American South Conference, which boasted an NCAA national champion in women’s basketball during its first year. The American South also gained immediate national cable television exposure on ESPN and sent numerous teams into NCAA postseason play during the conference’s four-year history.
Preceding his move to commissioner, Thompson served four years as the Director of Communications for the Metro Conference in Atlanta. While at the Metro, he directed the communications operations and administered conference championship events. Thompson originated the Metro Conference Sportswriters and Broadcasters Association, began a weekly radio program with over 300 affiliate stations and originated a weekly satellite video program involving all Metro institutions. He also took on administrative duties such as coordinating officials, scheduling tournament and regular season play, and handling legislative rules interpretations.
Thompson graduated from the University of Minnesota with an undergraduate degree in journalism. Following graduation, he spent two years as assistant sports information director at Kansas State University, earning numerous CoSIDA publication awards. He then spent three years as director of public relations and promotions for the NBA’s Kansas City Kings.