The 2007-08 athletic season marks the 10th year the Mountain West Conference will be under the direction of Commissioner Craig Thompson. Thompson was named Commissioner on Oct. 15, 1998, and has navigated the newest NCAA Division I conference through the ever-changing landscape of intercollegiate athletics.
Since the Mountain West Conference opened its doors on January 4, 1999, Thompson has been committed to excellence in intercollegiate athletics, while promoting the academic missions of its member institutions. Progressive in its approach, the MWC has flourished under the guidance of Commissioner Thompson and continues to cultivate opportunities for student-athletes to compete at the highest level, while fostering academic achievement and sportsmanship. The MWC has used all facets of technology to communicate, market and brand the league. Thompson has been instrumental in negotiating nearly $230 million in television revenue, directed the league through expansion with the addition of Texas Christian University and has been an innovator in the postseason bowl structure as MWC teams have participated in five inaugural bowl games. Also, the MWC was the only conference to experiment with a coaches challenge element in its instant replay system and was one of two conferences to launch Kids College, STAR Sportsmanship and STAR Coaching for children ages 6-14.
His leadership and vision also helped the conference enhance its television revenue and exposure through revolutionary agreements with CSTV and Comcast to become the first major collegiate athletic conference to launch a dedicated sports channel featuring 24-hour programming around its nine athletic programs, as well as conference news.
This vision has guaranteed greater levels of television exposure for all MWC sports and has resoundingly met the fundamental goals of preferred start times, competition on select days of the week and enhanced revenue.
The advent of the new television model began with the league's partnership with CSTV and an agreement giving the fastest-growing independent cable network exclusive rights to all Conference events through many means of media, including cable and satellite television coverage, national over-the-air and satellite radio, video-on-demand and online broadcast rights.
A succession of events has improved the model, including the CBS purchase of CSTV and the merger with Comcast SportsNet to form the centerpiece of the relationship - The Mtn. - MountainWest Sports Network. The historic launch of The Mtn. - the first sports network dedicated solely to one collegiate conference - has led to the formation of a second such network and perhaps more in the future.
Another integral piece of the television dynamic is VERSUS, a network currently seen in over 72 million homes. The MWC was the first exclusive college programming provider for the Comcast-owned entity, with football and both men's and women's basketball games. This fall, two other NCAA Bowl Subdivision conferences will air football games on VERSUS.
Thompson has been instrumental in strengthening the position of the Mountain West in the current Bowl Championship Series (BCS) structure. In 2004, the inaugural step for all Mountain West teams was accomplished when the University of Utah finished the regular season with an 11-0 record and ranked sixth in the BCS standings. The Utes became the first team from a non-automatic-qualifying conference to play in a BCS game, defeating Big East champion Pittsburgh (35-7) in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl on January 1, 2005. Thompson subsequently spearheaded an effort to provide better access into the BCS system and beginning with the 2006 season the MWC champion has now nearly tripled its opportunity to participate in a BCS bowl. In addition, annual BCS revenue has more than doubled.
Through its first eight years, the MWC has participated in 26 bowl games. The Mountain West was the only conference playing multiple bowl games in the 2000 season to go undefeated, posting a 3-0 mark. In 2004, the Conference won the ESPN Bowl Challenge Cup by Cooper Tires after going 2-1 and recording the highest winning percentage of all NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision conferences. In 2006, the league boasted a 3-1 mark. In an attempt to provide more opportunities, Thompson helped create five new bowl games in which MWC members could participate.
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 the two leagues in 1991.
During his eight years at the Sun Belt, 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.
Thompson is an integral part of the national landscape in intercollegiate athletics, holding many prestigious NCAA posts. In June 1995, Thompson was selected to serve on the NCAA Division I Men's Basketball Committee and was appointed Chair of the committee in July 1999, completing his term September 1, 2000. He is currently on the NCAA Football Board of Directors and a member of the BCS administration.
During his career, Thompson has served as 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. He has also 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 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 coordination of officials, scheduling of tournament and regular-season play, and handling of 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. Thompson and his wife, Carla, reside in Colorado, with their two children, Ted and Emma.
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