Mountain West commissioner Craig Thompson will step down effective Dec. 31, the conference announced Wednesday.
Thompson, 66, is the only commissioner the conference has ever known. The Mountain West formed in 1998 when the top eight schools -- Air Force, BYU, Colorado State, New Mexico, UNLV, Utah, San Diego State and Wyoming -- broke away from the WAC. Those schools hired then-Sun Belt commissioner Craig Thompson to run the league.
The Mountain West quickly became the top non-BCS conference. Utah became the first so-called "BCS buster" in 2004, and in 2010 TCU (a 2005 addition) won the Rose Bowl and finished No. 2 in the polls.
The Mountain West was also the first conference to launch its own cable television network. The Mtn. launched on Sept. 1, 2006, beating Big Ten Network to air by a year.
Thompson also joined SEC commissioner Greg Sankey, Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby and Notre Dame AD Jack Swarbrick in crafting the 12-team College Football Playoff expansion, which was finally adopted earlier this month.
“My one remaining priority was expansion of the College Football Playoff and viable access for the Mountain West,” said Thompson. “I take considerable pride in my committed engagement to this effort over the past two-and-a-half decades and look forward to the finalization of those details in the coming months. With CFP expansion accomplished and having invested almost a third of my life in the Mountain West, the time is now right for me to conclude my tenure and allow the Conference to continue its momentum under new leadership.”
Thompson started in college athletics as an assistant sports information director at Kansas State in 1978. He spent three years as the director of public relations for the Kansas City Kings, then returned to college athletics in 1983 as the Metro Conference's director of communications. Thompson entered the C-suite as the American South Conference's commissioner in 1987.
Subsequent changes in the industry saw Utah leave for the Pac-12 and TCU for the Big 12. The Mountain West now sits at 12 schools, with former WAC schools Boise State, Fresno State, Nevada, San Jose State and Utah State now in the league.
“The entire Mountain West Conference owes a debt of gratitude to Craig for his selfless service over the history of our conference,” said MW board of directors chairman and New Mexico president Garnett Stokes. “His fingerprints are on every accomplishment and every initiative we have undertaken, and he has positioned the Conference to continue to be among the nation’s elite. We look forward to celebrating Craig this fall and during our 25th anniversary year, and although his departure will leave a void we are grateful that Craig will be available as a consultant to the MWC as we navigate the changes taking place in college athletics. We wish Craig and Carla and their children all the very best.”
With Thompson's impending retirement, MAC commissioner Dr. Jon Steinbrecher becomes the dean of FBS commissioners with a 2009 hire date. Six of the 10 FBS leagues have or will change commissioners since 2019.
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