The Mountain West Conference is pushing forward with plans for a fall football season, and it is doing so aggressively.
The Group of Five conference, which includes Utah State as one of 12 teams spread across eight states, is eyeing an eight-game regular season beginning Oct. 24 and culminating with a Mountain West championship game on Dec. 19, multiple outlets reported Monday evening.
Multiple league sources painted the situation to The Salt Lake Tribune Monday evening as fluid, but with legitimate optimism that eight games with an Oct. 24 start date will be tenable, despite no open weeks built in to that scheduling model.
Monday’s reported meeting among Mountain West athletic directors included what the testing protocols would be under a proposed return-to-play scenario. One league source told The Tribune that multiple testing options are on the table, but indicated that three times per week is the probable scenario at this point.
While the Pac-12 has multiple teams that are not yet able to practice fully, so too does the Mountain West, which has three California schools, plus the University of New Mexico, which is still prohibited from practicing with more than 10 people together, per the state’s public health order.
Mountain West presidents are scheduled to meet again Thursday evening. A vote on whether or not to play is not currently scheduled, but could still take place.
Among the reasons the Mountain West is opting to push for a fall season, let alone adopt an ambitious timeline to do so, money is prevalent. The league’s new six-year, $270 million media rights took effect July 1. The annual payout each full member (Hawaii is a football-playing associate member) is due to receive now quadruples from roughly $1.1 million to $4 million.
Furthermore, starting Oct. 24 puts the league in the mix for a New Year’s Six Bowl. Under current rules, the highest-ranked champion from a Group of Five conference (American, Conference USA, MAC, Mountain West, Sun Belt) is guaranteed a New Year’s Six spot, provided the Group of Five’s top-ranked team does not make the four-team College Football Playoff.
In the six seasons since the College Football Playoff began, a Mountain West team has qualified for a New Year’s Six game once, 2014 when Boise State beat Arizona in the Fiesta Bowl. As a point of reference, last season’s Group of Five representative in the New Year’s Six was American Athletic Conference champion Memphis, which received $4 million for playing in the Cotton Bowl vs. Penn State.
If the Mountain West can pull this off, it would be perceived as a black eye for the Pac-12, which is currently the only Power Five conference not playing, or at least not having a plan and schedule in place to begin like the Big Ten does.
The Pac-12 announced a testing and research initiative with San Diego-based Quidel on Sept. 3, which will provide the league with daily testing, but its presidents and chancellors emerged from a Friday meeting without having voted on a return-to-play plan. Pac-12 leadership is scheduled to meet again Thursday, at which time a vote is expected to be taken with Oct. 31 and Nov. 7 standing as the two primary options as start dates.