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The Plan To Keep The Mountain West Relevant

  • WCC Commissioner Gloria Nevarez will transition to leading the Mountain West on Jan. 1.
  • She becomes the newest FBS commissioner at a time where the league has never faced more seismic changes.
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Gloria Nevarez assumed she would spend the rest of her college sports career as the commissioner of the West Coast Conference, home to perennial powerhouse men’s basketball team Gonzaga.

But earlier this year, a search firm contacted her asking if she might be interested in a new commissioner role — at the Mountain West. The opportunity “really excited me,” she told Front Office Sports.

On Nov. 11, the conference announced Nevarez would assume the role on Jan. 1, 2023 following the retirement of longtime commissioner Craig Thompson. 

Nevarez, who has 25 years of experience under her belt and multiple high-ranking NCAA committee roles, will become the newest commissioner in the FBS at a time when the league has never faced more seismic challenges. But Nevarez already has strategies to navigate these uncertainties.

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Nevarez describes her short-term goal as one of “positioning” — both when it comes to the MWC’s place in conference realignment and the expanded College Football Playoff.

Her priority, for now, is to maintain the Mountain West’s current members — a goal she believes is feasible, given that the schools have similar geographic positions and long histories with football. 

But she’s aware of reports that the Big 12 and Pac-12 could be shopping around — the former appears to be more aggressive than the latter. San Diego State to the Pac-12? Boise State to the Big 12? Pundits and rumor mills have floated all kinds of ideas, though none have stuck.

“If we lose some, we have to articulate our ‘why,’” she said. “Is it strength in numbers? About fit? We have to see who we lost, what we’re trying to replace.” Mountain West officials are having daily conversations about multiple potential realignment scenarios, she said, calling the possibility a constant “threat.” 

The College Football Playoff is an arguably less adversarial situation, given that a 12-team playoff starting in 2024 was finalized just a few weeks ago. The new structure, which Thompson helped create, ensures that at least one Group of 5 school will get into the playoff every year. 

Nevarez counts that as a win for the Mountain West, but she still said there’s “a lot of devil in the details” to ensure her conference has better representation in future CFP decision-making — particularly when it comes to money. 

  • Currently, all Group of 5 conferences receive a lump sum of CFP revenue that’s just a fraction of what Power 5 conferences receive. 
  • In 2022, for example, Power 5 conferences received a base amount of $74 million each, while Group of 5 schools got $95 million total to split among themselves
  • That system will be slightly altered in 2024 and 2025 — but will be completely revisited in 2026.

“Having a voice in the room on how the revenue distribution works and continues to work, I think, is going to be important,” she said. 

In the long term, Nevarez hopes to improve the brand exposure of the conference — something multiple conference commissioners, from the MEAC’s Sonja Stills to the Big 12’s Brett Yormark have told FOS they see as a priority going forward. Nevarez, like Yormark, acknowledged that her conference could benefit from a more national brand than its current regional specificity. 

The Mountain West’s media rights contract is also looming. 

The current deal with Fox Sports and CBS is worth about $270 million in total, and will run until 2026. Nevarez said that she’ll begin to look at negotiations in 12-18 months — but acknowledged that it will be important to see how Power 5 media contracts shake out first — and that she’s also keeping an eye on the CFP and NBA negotiations. 

In all, Nevarez feels the conference is strong. But as she said in her initial job announcement: “We cannot — and will not — rest on our success. We will be aggressive, we will be innovative, we will be inclusive.”

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