Fresno State has scheduled a number of football games against Power Five opponents over the past year, the guarantees helping it keep up with the rising costs of college athletics.
In addition, Fresno State did not secure any revenue from guaranteed football games last season and added two non-revenue sports with a budget in the bottom half of the conference, so for it and other institutions scheduling is becoming a concern for the conference.
“We are in a competition,” Mountain West Commissioner Craig Thompson said Tuesday during his annual address at Media Days. “The first year of the CFP, Boise State won the bowl game and our goal is simply to play minimally in a New Year’s Eve bowl game, one of the CFP games, and in order to do that we can’t be over-scheduled, but we can’t be under-scheduled, either.”
The model, Thompson said, is to play one “stretch” game against a Power Five opponent, two games against programs that are equals or 50/50-type games that you should be able to be successful in and then a fourth game against an opponent you should beat.
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That is the formula Fresno State has tried to adhere to, but in 2017 the Bulldogs will play games at Alabama and at Washington that will net the athletic department $2.4 million. Fresno State also has games at Oregon and at UCLA in 2021 and will play two Power Five opponents in 2018 at Minnesota and at UCLA, in 2019 at USC and against Minnesota, and 2020 at Colorado and at Texas A&M.
The games against Minnesota are a home-and-home series.
The Mountain West does have scheduling guidelines in men’s and women’s basketball – and penalties if they are not met. But there has not been talk about making that a set policy in football due in part to how programs schedule with games set as many as 10 years down the road.
But what a member institution does with its schedules has an impact on the rest of the conference. An MW champion could schedule itself out of a College Football Playoff bowl – the conference last year went 3-21 in games against Power Five opponents, the losses by an average of 19.9 points.
“There was a point last year where I think we were close to 0-21 in nonconference games over two consecutive weekends, but probably 15 of those games were on the road against opponents against more than likely we would be challenged with, and we just can’t continue to do that. But I understand the dynamics and the reality of it all,” Thompson said. “They need the revenue from those road games.”
On expansion – The Big 12 Conference has made the headlines with its designs on expansion, and Thompson said two MW schools have notified the conference they have expressed interest in joining that Power Five conference – the conference commissioner did not confirm, but they are believed to be Boise State and Colorado State – and there are others that haven’t informed the conference but have expressed an interest in moving up. But the Mountain West also could investigate potential moves to add teams.
“You know, this membership, expansion door swings both ways,” Thompson said. “This week, I’ve had more than one and less than five institutions reach out to me and say, ‘Can we be in the Mountain West Conference?’ It’s something that next time we get the athletic directors together and our board together we’ll discuss and it’s something that we have discussed, not specifically particular institutions but the philosophy of what makes us better. Does 14 make more sense than 12 and et cetera, and what are we looking to accomplish.
“It’s an ongoing and somewhat evolutionary process, but it’s something that while we haven’t said, ‘Let’s have a discussion about State or Tech or that university.’ We have talked about what makes sense for this league. It’s again something that we’re going to continue to monitor, and as things develop we’ll adjust accordingly. It could be a topic.”