An Offer MW Schools Can't Refuse: If They Have Clearance They Have to Take to the Gridiron

Tracy Ringolsby

There is a fact of life in Division I athletics that cannot be ignored.

Football is responsible for 85% of an athletic department's revenue—if not more. At many schools the only other sport that pays its way is men's basketball, although at Wyoming and a few others the wrestling programs provide financial support, and women's basketball comes close to avoiding red ink.

Translation: If football can't be played, schools most likely will have to cancel all sports.

And don't get caught up on the idea that they could play football in the spring. It would be ill-advised to think schools could play in March, April and May, and expect players to be back in camp the following August for the start of another season.

There is not one-plan-fits-all given the nature of the politics in various locations. And that was underscored on Tuesday when NCAA president Mark Emmert said decisions on when/if teams are going to play in the fall will be left to state officials and university president.

"Normally, there's an agreed-upon start date for every sport, every season," Emmert told ESPN, "but under these circumstances, now that's all been derailed by the pandemic. It won't be the conferences that can do that, either. It will be the local and state health officials that say whether or not you can open and play football with fans."

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With that in mind, conferences like the Mountain West find themselves needing to barnstorm on potential plans for football season, based on different scenarios.

All indications are the Mountain West could wait until the final days of July or first days of August before having to reach an ultimate decision. In the meantime, they can kick the tires. And truth be told, a four-week workout session might not be ideal, but with a focused plan, four weeks would be enough time to have teams ready to go.

If the California concerns become reality, and San Diego State, Fresno State and San Jose State are not allowed by state officials to field football teams there is actually a simple solution that would not shake the foundation of the MW.

The remaining eight schools could all play each other, providing a minimum of an eight-game schedule if no non-conference games are scheduled. If need be the season could start as late as the first weekend in October, and end at the normal time of the final weekend in November with each team having a week off in the midst of the eight-game conference slate.

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The six Mountain Division teams would maintain their basic schedule within the division, and fill voids created by games they would be losing against the three California schools with games against the three remaining West Division teams—Nevada, UNLV and Hawaii.

Wyoming, as an example, would have a conference schedule that would actually have only one adjustment—Hawaii replaces San Diego State at Laramie on Oct. 17.

If the season could start in September, Wyoming could maintain four non-conference games. All things being positive, it could maintain the current matchups, and if not it could develop a more regional schedule.

Yes, that would mean two Division I-AA schools, and two Power 5 schools. That would require an exception from the Division I rules limiting Division I-AA opponents to one a season.

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In trying to put together schedules that would minimize travel for teams it would require keeping games more regional. Given the circumstances, the NCAA could likely make a one-year exception.

And if problems arise for Hawaii because of health or travel concerns, the MW could take take a real flyer—how about playing home-and-home games with the regional conference members?

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In other words, Wyoming would have home-and-home games with Colorado State, Air Force and New Mexico, accounting for six games, and then a game against the four other MW schools—Boise State, Utah State, Nevada and UNLV. 

That would leave room for two non-conference games_hosting Utah and at Weber State. 

It's a different twist, but then this is a different challenge that schools are facing.

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