The Mountain West Conference has its new leader.
The league on Friday announced it has hired West Coast Conference Commissioner Gloria Nevarez to take over the 11-member Mountain West starting Jan. 1, replacing the retiring Craig Thompson, who is the only commissioner in the league’s 23-year history. Thompson announced his retirement in September.
Nevarez has been the WCC’s commissioner the past five years. She becomes the second female commissioner of an FBS level football conference, joining Conference USA’s Judy MacLeod, and the first FBS commissioner of Latino descent.
“We are absolutely thrilled that Gloria will lead our membership into the future during a critical and challenging period in intercollegiate athletics,” UNM President Garnett Stokes, the chair of the MW Board of Directors, said in a release. “We had an impressive pool of candidates, but in the end, Gloria had the vision, the experience, the desire and the ability to elevate our league and our twelve member institutions.”
Stokes said during an interview later in the day that the league’s board of Directors, after having a search firm compile a list of candidates and applicants, first formed a list of 10 to candidates to consider, then whittled that down to four finalists, who were interviewed this week. Stokes said she would not identify the finalists.
“We will be aggressive, we will be innovative, we will be inclusive and we will keep our focus on the student-athletes who call the Mountain West Conference home,” Nevarez said in a statement before speaking with media, fielding mostly questions related to conference realignment.
While with the WCC, the league that is home to college basketball powerhouse Gonzaga, the conference was able to expand its television contracts and increase exposure.
“While we are excited for the opportunity this provides her, our Conference will miss the tremendous leadership and stewardship Gloria has demonstrated in her time as our Commissioner, said Gonzaga President Thayne McCulloh, who is the chair of the WCC’s Presidents Council.
Gonzaga had considered in 2018 joining the Mountain West before the WCC made concessions to its most high-profile member to stay in the league. The Mountain West made such concessions at one time to Boise State when its football brand was the driving force behind television revenue potential, giving the school more revenue generation potential than any other member institution — a deal that is no longer viewed favorably by many of the league’s other members.
As conference realignment is again at the forefront of the college athletics landscape, with Gonzaga basketball again being one of the programs whose name comes up most often with a rumored move to the Big 12 potentially being on the horizon and current Mountain West member San Diego State being the subject of rumors of its own to join the Pac-12, the Journal asked Nevarez her stance on giving certain league members special concessions to join or remain in a conference.
“Twenty years ago, there was kind of a philosophy among all the conferences that equal revenue distribution was a must and it was necessary to maintain conference harmony,” Nevarez said. “(Since) you’ve seen difference models. Every conference is slightly different about — a little bit more eat what you kill. Maybe there’s baseline distribution and then there’s some incentives or rewards for athletic success further into the NCAA men’s basketball tournament or in bowl selection, that type of thing. …
“I do feel that in this day and age, we should be open to being innovative. A healthy conference does have a baseline investment, a baseline level of commitment to each other that you have to start with. … (But you also need) the ability to look at rewarding performance because, as we know, going to bowl games and going to the NCAA Tournament requires a lot of investment as well.”
Prior to her time at the WCC, Nevarez also worked as Senior Associate Commissioner at the Pac-12 where she oversaw all conference sports and championships except football. She also served as the conference liaison for men’s basketball and tournament director of the men’s basketball tournament in Las Vegas, Nev. She has also been a compliance director at Mountain West member San Jose State University, has worked at the University of Oklahoma and has a law degree from University of California, Berkeley.
Football is the driving force for television revenue in college athletics. How does she address any concerns from fan bases that she comes to the Mountain West, a league of public institutions, from a conference without FBS football that is comprised of mostly private schools?
“If you look back on at my path, my entire career has been in and around large football,” Nevarez said. “The WCC has been the (only) stop where we don’t sponsor football as a league. So there isn’t a piece of big football that I haven’t worked with and around. And, as you know, (football) powers the Association (NCAA), so for me, this is a great opportunity.
“I attended large public, state institutions — high school, college and law school. I have worked the majority of my career at like institutions and I’m really exited to get back to my roots in large public institutions and football sponsoring institutions.”
Nevarez is from Santa Clara, California. She played basketball at Massachusetts.