Craig Thompson has had enough reminders of the current state of the world. The Mountain West commissioner was in the room as a member of the Division I Men's Basketball Committee last month when the NCAA Tournament was canceled.
"On that Wednesday, we got the message we're going to play the tournament without fans," Thompson said. "We suspended that first vote for at-large teams until that Thursday morning. We came back Wednesday, and they said the [Rudy] Gobert thing hit in the NBA. We all kind of looked at each other and said, 'This is going to be really interesting.'"
More than interesting for Thompson, in his fourth year on the committee; it was life-changing for him, the committee and college sports.
"You could feel it and sense it," he said.
Now, like the rest of us, he is living it. As the longest-serving active commissioner in the FBS, Thompson deserves our attention. His league has always been somewhat progressive. Consider this week: The MWC was the first league to go virtual with its summer media days. Expect more leagues to follow. (The MAC has already made a similar announcement.)
Like everyone else, a return-to-play is at the forefront of Thompson's mind. He is one of the 10 FBS commissioners speaking several times a week trying to answer that question.
Speaking to the San Diego Union-Tribune last week, Thompson wondered out loud whether his 12-team league can play with only nine schools. The thought being that, if the state of California isn't entirely open for play, Fresno State, San Jose State and San Diego State couldn't participate.
"That's one of the big questions," he said. "You listen to Gov. [Gavin] Newsome, and he says, 'I can't see collectively large gatherings until mid-fall.' One of the many things that keep you awake at times is a lack of a universal start date. You know how competitive our world is. Wait a minute here, do you wait for the others until everybody can open?
"Let's go right to the Pac-12 with the states of Washington, Oregon and California supposedly [together in reopening]. What if the two Arizona [teams], Utah and Colorado are good to go and those are other eight are not?"
Would it be possible to play a shortened season with conference games only? South Carolina athletic director Ray Tanner already told CBS Sports last week that the 10 FBS conferences.
"I don't know. You try to speculate. Everybody's got an opinion," Thompson said. "First and foremost … what do our campuses look like? Is there a more dense or challenging environment than a college campus? You've got 40 buildings on five acres with 30,000 people walking around -- every day, every night. Multiply it by layers of 50 states. … The keys are testing, tracing, the separation. What do you have if there is a second outbreak and you've got 10s of thousands of people. Where are you going to house them?"
This is a plight shared by the Group of Five conferences. The pandemic will bear an additional financial impact for them compared to their Power Five counterparts.
It was Thompson's conference -- along with the other ones in the Group of Five -- who wrote NCAA president Mark Emmert a couple of weeks ago.
It was perceived at the time as a way to cut sports. The NCAA requires schools to sponsor at least 16 sports. In actuality, it was a well-reasoned view at how minor sports may have to look in the future: fewer contests with fewer athletes perhaps competing without a conference tournament.
"One of the problems in the Mountain West is we're an airplane league … [travel is] very expensive," Thompson said. With the exception of contests between Wyoming, Colorado State and Air Force as well as San Jose State playing Fresno State, "Every trip, for every athlete, you get on a plane. We're trying not to eliminate a sport but to reduce costs so we can still give you a chance to play the sport you love."
That makes Thompson wonder aloud again as he looks around the MWC's headquarters in Colorado Springs, Colorado.
"We have 10,000 square feet, 15 private offices, six or eight or 10 cubicles, a studio," he said. "Why do we need that coming back? I think a lot of people are questioning that. Do we need to pay $400,000 a year for rent?"
That's quite an admission for league -- like the rest of the Group of Five -- continues to lose ground to the Power Five. If the football season is truncated or not played, it will be the Group of FIve that is hit hardest.
That would be a shame for a league that came into the College Football Playoff era with the AAC closely resembling a Power Five conference.
Consider the state of the league:
- San Diego State is building a new stadium.
- Boise State challenges annually for a New Year's Six bowl.
- Air Force, Hawaii and San Diego State are coming off 10-win seasons.
- Utah State quarterback Jordan Love was a first-round draft choice of the Packers.
- UNLV has redone its facilities and will share a new NFL stadium with the Las Vegas Raiders.
- The league has a new TV deal with CBS and Fox.
Meanwhile, Thompson didn't need a reminder on the current state of the world recently. He got it anyway. The man is lucky at age 63 to have a full head of hair. That means he has to be creative during the pandemic.
"The person that cuts my hair says, 'You've got to wait in the car. I'll text you when can come in. There can only be one person,'" Thompson said.
That's one adaption to the new normal. As for those media days, they were actually supposed to be the first meaningful event in Los Angeles' new SoFi Stadium ahead of its grand opening -- a Taylor Swift concert on July 25. That concert might happen; it might not.
There are several meanings, then, when Thompson says the future will have to be full of "good creative options."