Mountain West Conference Commissioner Craig Thompson stands next to Utah State’s (1) midfielder Logan Bonner accepting the trophy after defeating San Diego State during a college football game at the NCAA College Football Tournament of the Mountain West Conference, Saturday, Dec. 4, 2021, in Carson California (AP Photo/John McCoy)
COLORADO SPRINGS, Colorado – Mountain West Conference Commissioner Craig Thompson today announced his decision to step down effective December 31, 2022, after nearly 24 years at the helm of the conference.
“My only remaining priority was the expansion of College Football Playoff and viable access to Mountain West,” Thompson said. “I am extremely proud of my committed engagement in this effort over the past two and a half decades, and I look forward to finalizing these details in the coming months. With the CFP expansion accomplished and nearly a third of my life invested in Mountain West, it is now time for me to end my term and allow the conference to continue its momentum under new leadership.”
“It is an honor to be a part of the Mountain West Conference and to guide its growth since 1998, the year the conference was formed,” Thompson said. Working with our conference staff and leadership of member institutions over the years as we pursued our collective vision has been a rewarding experience. I am grateful to every person and organization that has been a part of our journey and wish them – and the conference – the best in the years to come.”
Thompson, 66, is the only commissioner in the history of the Mountain West Conference, which officially began operations in January 1999 and was uniquely Thomson’s second NCAA Division I conference. Under his leadership, the conference negotiated nearly $600 million in television revenue to support member schools, conference teams participated in five Bowl Championship Series (BCS)/College Football Playoff (CFP) games, as well as six bowl opening competitions, and Thompson led efforts Successful members expanded over the years to promote the conference.
“The entire Mountain West conference owes a debt of gratitude to Craig for his dedicated service throughout the history of our conference,” said University of New Mexico President Garnett Stokes, chair of the conference board. “His fingerprints are on every achievement and every initiative we have undertaken, and the conference is set to remain among the nation’s elite. We look forward to celebrating Craig this fall and during our 25th anniversary, and although his departure will leave a void, we are grateful that Craig will be available as a consultant at MWC As we move into the changes taking place in college athletics. We wish Craig, Carla and their kids all the best.”
“Craig has provided important leadership to the MWC since its inception,” said Keith Whitfield, UNLV President, Conference Board Vice Chairman. “We’re stronger because of his work as we move forward in the rapidly changing landscape of the NCAA and College Football Playoff discussions.”
Thompson, who is 43 in sports management, has spent all but eight sitting in the commissioner’s chair, making him the only active FBS commissioner with more than 30 years of experience leading a multi-sport conference. Throughout his career, Thompson has been an integral part of the national intercollegiate athletics scene, holding several prestigious positions on the NCAA and esports national committees. Thompson currently sits on the CFP Management Committee while also serving as a member of the Board of Directors for College Football, LLC. In addition, he recently completed his second term as a member of the NCAA Division I men’s basketball committee. His first five-year term from 1995-2000 culminated in his tenure as committee chair from July 1, 1999 to September 1, 2000.
During his career, Thompson has also been a member of the Executive Committee and the Director’s Cup Committee of the National Association of Athletics Directors’ (NACDA), as well as the NCAA Governing Council and several subcommittees of the board. In addition, he has played a prominent role in hosting several NCAA men’s and women’s post-season basketball tournaments in St. Louis, Atlanta, New Orleans, and Denver. Prior to his current position, Thompson served as delegate for the Sunbilt Conference for nearly eight years and as the sole delegate for the South American Conference prior to the merger of these two tournaments in 1991.
With conference realignments spreading throughout the collegiate landscape a decade ago, Thompson set the Mountain West site for the future with the additions of Fresno State and the University of Nevada on July 1, 2012, and San Jose State University and Utah State University on July 1, 2013. The University of Hawaii also joined in. The league became a member football only on July 1, 2012, while the College of Colorado became a member of the women’s football on July 1, 2014.
Thompson’s leadership and vision helped the conference boost his television revenue and visibility. In January 2020, Mountain West announced a $270 million, six-year media rights agreement with CBS and FOX Sports. From 2020-21 to 2025-26, men’s football and basketball will be televised on CBS, CBS Sports Network, Paramount Plus, FOX, FS1 and FS2. FOX Sports will also have exclusive rights to the Mountain West Football Championship, which will be televised annually on the FOX family of networks.
Thompson has been instrumental in cementing Mountain West’s position on the college football scene—both in the former BCS format and in the current CFP structure. In 2006, he led an effort that resulted in better access for MW and automatically doubled annual BCS revenue year-over-year for unqualified conferences. With the evolution to the new 12-team CFP format, annual post-season conference revenue will have quadrupled from initial BCS distribution levels.
While at the Sun Belt Conference, he spent most of his time addressing national trends and challenges in intercollegiate athletics, television exposure, issues related to conference membership, and promoting corporate participation. In 1997-1998, the Sun Belt instituted a comprehensive sportsmanship policy, which was awarded the 1998 Thompson Fellowship in Sports Ethics by the International Sports Institute. Under Thompson’s leadership, the Sun Belt was active in expansion as it continued to consolidate its position nationally, adding Florida International University and the University of Denver.
Prior to his merger with the Sun Belt, Thompson served as the first and only commissioner of the South American Conference, which boasted the NCAA Women’s National Basketball Championship during his first year. South America also gained instant exposure to national cable television on ESPN and sent several teams to NCAA postseason play during the conference’s four-year history.
Prior to moving to commissioner position, Thompson worked for four years as director of communications for a metro conference in Atlanta. While on the metro, he managed communications operations and ran conference championship events. Thompson created the Metro Conference Sports Writers and Broadcasters Association, started a weekly radio program with more than 300 affiliate stations and created a weekly satellite video program that includes all Metro organizations. He also assumed administrative duties such as coordinating officials, scheduling tournament and regular season play, and handling interpretations of legislative rules.
Thompson graduated from the University of Minnesota with an undergraduate degree in journalism. After graduation, he spent two years as an assistant director of sports information at Kansas State University, receiving several CoSIDA publishing awards. He then spent three years as the Director of Public Relations and Promotions for the Kansas City Kings in the NBA.