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Mountain West weighs TV money versus controlling game times

Mountain West Commissioner Craig Thompson speaks during the Mountain West Conference football media day on July 22, 2014, at the Cosmopolitan hotel and casino in Las Vegas.

LARAMIE — Players, coaches and media members will convene at the Green Valley Ranch Resort in Henderson, Nevada, this week for Mountain West Media Days.

West Division teams (San Diego State, Fresno State, Nevada, UNLV, San Jose State, Hawaii) will take their turn behind the microphones Tuesday before teams from the Mountain Division (Wyoming, Boise State, Utah State, Air Force, New Mexico, Colorado State) talk Wednesday. League commissioner Craig Thompson will also speak at the new location of the league’s annual media summit, which relocated from The Cosmopolitan in Las Vegas.

So what will be the topics of conversation? Here are some that are sure to get plenty of attention during the two-day event.

TV contract negotiations

The MW’s television contract — one of the most substantial revenue streams for the conference and its members — is set to expire next summer, leaving the league in negotiations for a new one. Exactly what it will entail is still a mystery.

CBS Sports and ESPN are the league’s primary network partners in the current deal, and CBS began an exclusive negotiating window with the league this spring. But schools have to weigh not only the exposure and payout they receive but also how attendance could be affected by the late kickoff times that are usually assigned by the networks.

Every team gets a $1.1-million cut as part of the current deal other than Boise State, which is paid an additional $1.8 million as part of a separate TV contract.

Thompson declined to comment on specifics of the negotiations this spring, but the league essentially has two options: Renew with CBS, ESPN and AT&T SportsNet or go the more digital route with additional streaming platforms, the latter of which would give teams more control over kickoff times. It’s hard to envision the league not taking the more lucrative one.

Bowl lineup

Assuming the league renews its contracts with the Potato, New Mexico, Arizona and Hawaii bowls, it will still have five contracted bowls for the next cycle. A new bowl game starting in Los Angeles in 2020 will take the place of the league’s tie-in with the Las Vegas Bowl, which is booting the MW in favor of an alternating matchup between the Pac-12 and the SEC and Big Ten moving forward.

But the league has been granted six contracted bowls for the next cycle based on its historical four-year average of bowl-eligible teams, though there’s been no word as to whether it’s found that sixth and final partner. It’s a significant development considering the shortage of bowl tie-ins kept Wyoming out of one last season despite the Cowboys being eligible at 6-6.

Passing the baton

Boise State and Fresno State have had some of the most recognizable faces in the MW help them ascend to the top of the conference in recent years.

After transferring from Oregon State, Marcus McMaryion quickly seized Fresno State’s starting quarterback job and led the Bulldogs to a 21-4 record as a starter the last two seasons. The all-MW performer completed 65 percent of his passes for 6,355 yards and 36 touchdowns with just 10 interceptions during his time with the Bulldogs.

Brett Rypien signed with Boise State out of high school and went on to become a rare four-year starter. The reigning MW Offensive Player of the Year also became the league’s all-time leading passer with 13,581 career yards.

Rypien and McMaryion led their respective teams to the MW championship game each of the last two seasons with Boise State and Fresno State splitting those matchups. But both have exhausted their eligibility, leaving massive voids for each team to fill if they’re going to stay at the top of their respective divisions.

Round two

The lone coaching change in the MW this offseason was a familiar one with Gary Andersen returning to Utah State.

The Aggies needed a coach once Matts Wells parlayed Utah State’s 11-win season into the head coaching job at Texas Tech. They opted for a second stint with Anderson, who led Utah State to a pair of bowl appearances from 2009-12 before taking Power Five head coaching jobs at Wisconsin and Oregon State.

Andersen, who spent last season as an assistant at Utah, is inheriting a team that’s among the league’s favorites this fall. Utah State returns the bulk of its nucleus from a team that shared the Mountain Division title with Boise State last season, including first-team all-league linebackers David Woodard and Tipa Galeai, special teams demon Savon Scarver and quarterback Jordan Love, who’s back as perhaps the most talented quarterback in the MW after operating the nation’s second-best scoring offense last season.

Hot seats

Like every conference, the MW has a few coaches heading into the season possibly coaching for their jobs.

Nobody’s seat is hotter than Bob Davie’s. From a lack of wins (4.7 per season) to an investigation into his conduct in 2018, Davie’s tenure at New Mexico is on thin ice. The Lobos have won just three games in three of Davie’s seven seasons at the helm, including the last two.

Tony Sanchez could also use a breakout season at UNLV if he wants a sixth year in Vegas. Expectations were high for the Rebels’ coach when he was hired in 2015 after turning nearby Bishop Gorman High School into a national powerhouse, but that success has yet to translate to the college level. Sanchez is just 16-32 in four seasons at the helm and has yet to get UNLV bowl eligible.

Colorado State’s Mike Bobo may be safe for now — his hefty $8-million buyout has as much to do with that as anything — though the Rams are coming off their first losing season since 2012 and have lost three straight Border Wars to Wyoming. Brent Brennan is entering his third season of a seemingly endless rebuild at San Jose State, but there could be some pressure given the Spartans’ three combined wins the last two seasons are the program’s fewest over a two-year stretch since also winning just three games from 2009-10.

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Follow UW athletics beat writer Davis Potter on Twitter at @DavisEPotter

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College Sports Reporter

Davis Potter is the University of Wyoming athletics reporter. An Alabama native and 2011 Auburn University graduate, Potter joined the Star-Tribune in 2018 after five years covering Ole Miss and the Southeastern Conference. He lives in Laramie.

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