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The Mountain West announced and introduced its new commissioner Friday morning. Gloria Nevarez, who currently serves as the commissioner of the West Coast Conference, will resign her post there and take up the mantle left by Craig Thompson on Jan. 1, 2023. Thompson announced his intent to resign as the first and only commissioner the nearly 24-year old conference has had back in September.
Nevarez will take over at a critical moment in the Mountain West’s history, and perhaps the most precarious since the conference had to deal with the loss of BYU, TCU and the University of Utah in the early 2010s. The landscape of the NCAA is quickly changing with NIL and alterations to the College Football Playoff format all in the foreground. How Nevarez navigates the upcoming years will have a long-lasting impact on the conference.
One of the most pressing issues for the Mountain West is conference realignment. The conference hasn’t made major additions since the early 2010s when it added Boise State, Fresno State, Nevada, Utah State and San Jose State in all sports along with Hawaii and Colorado College in select sports. With other conferences undergoing massive changes in membership – either adding or losing schools – the Mountain West has a chance to step in and add to its ranks. When Nevarez was asked about how important expansion is to the Mountain West’s future, she said the question of expansion comes down to why you’re expanding.
“Positioning the Mountain West to get additional teams in the CFP or the NCAA men’s basketball tournament or in all sports, getting more teams at the NCAA Tournament at the highest possible seeding, that should be our why,” Nevarez said. “So then we have to ask ourselves, if we’re losing folks, do we need to replace them and are there replacements that further that why. So it’s not for me a quick, yes we should always be at X number of schools. But a deep analysis of who do we have in the league, who, if someone gets lured away, who and what do they represent to us and what are we losing. And who and what is available to then either replace, expand and continue us towards that why.”
Conference realignment is an issue previous commissioner Thompson faced with mixed results. The Mountain West largely weathered losing its BCS-busting members like TCU and the U of U by adding five new schools. However, further expansion hasn’t been done despite some opportunity. Gonzaga flirted with the idea of moving to the conference but that fizzled out. Issues over revenue sharing reportedly impacted the Mountain West’s willingness to add the basketball powerhouse to its ranks.
When asked about unequal deals around TV rights and revenue sharing – like the arrangement Boise State currently has with the Mountain West and that Gonzaga was reportedly seeking – Nevarez said that in “this day in age we should be a little open to being innovative,” while also adding that a “healthy conference” does need a “baseline level of commitment to each other.”
“Twenty years ago there was kind of a philosophy among all the conferences that equal revenue distribution was a must and it was necessary to maintain conference harmony,” Nevarez said. “Whereas, you’ve seen different models and every conference is slightly different about, a little bit more eat what you kill. Maybe there’s a baseline distribution and then there’s some incentives or rewards for athletic success further into the NCAA men’s basketball tournament or bowl selection.”
Nevarez will likely have to tackle the issue of expansion in the near future whether she wants to or not. Rumors that San Diego State may be invited to the Pac-12 are heating up and Gonzaga, the once-target of the Mountain West, is rumored to be considering a jump to the Big 12.