Gloria Nevarez became the second Mountain West conference commissioner in its history on Sunday, Jan. 1 after previous commissioner Craig Thomas retired. Nevarez was previously the commissioner of the West Coast conference. She stopped by Albuquerque on her trip to all the universities in the conference and watched the University of New Mexico women's basketball team take on Colorado State University and the men's basketball team face the Air Force Academy.
Before the men's game against Air Force, Nevarez spoke with the media and answered questions about her plans for the Mountain West conference.
Realignment has been a major talking point in college athletics, with the University of California, Los Angeles and the University of Southern California leaving the Pacific-12 conference and moving to the Big Ten. In regards to realignment, Nevarez said she appreciates geographical consistency of Mountain West schools, but is thinking more about finding universities with similar values.
"For a lot of years, I think the Rockies have been a little bit insular for us and kind of that barrier, until UCLA and USC decide to go to the Big Ten and really kind of break open that geographic barrier. I still think it's a great thing for us in that we are very like institutions in the region, but certainly geography, maybe today, is less of a barrier … If we lose one school, what are we losing? What do we need to gain? And to analyze every school regardless of geography about whether they fit based on what we lose and who we want to be," Nevarez said.
Streaming has quickly become a huge part of all entertainment, including sports. When asked about how the conference would handle streaming, Nevarez said the conference is in a unique position, but she would like to see how other conferences handle their streaming rights.
"I don't think that any one entity has really knocked it out of the ballpark (with) monetizing streaming rights which is why … streaming will be a big part of (the Pac-12’s) deal and will give us an indication of what the market will sustain. We are in a(n) interesting position because we have a very strong digital network that we own, wholly own, so we would be ready to go (to) market with that as well," Nevarez said.
The Mountain West conference has slowly become a major player in college basketball, with five teams on the men's side looking for a spot in March Madness this year. Nevarez spoke about how this applies to the culture of basketball in the Mountain West.
"We are the fifth-ranked league in the average (NCAA evaluation tool) ranking in the country right now, so we are ahead of a lot of the bigger leagues. We're number one in the West, and we have five teams that have a very strong chance of getting into the tournament. You couldn't ask for better positioning right now, and I think the strength of our league will sustain that … We have a lot of schools that are the only show in town and really avid fans who pack the house and, sometimes, you don't get that from the Western region … Our fanbase is really loyal," Nevarez said.
This was not Nevarez's first time in Albuquerque: she previously worked with former UNM athletic director Rudy Davalos. She said he was able to mentor her when she was just starting out.
"Decades ago, when I first started in this business, I was in an NCAA development program, and they assigned me to Rudy Davalos as my mentor because he was the only Hispanic AD in Division I at the time … He was really great about assessing job postings and about interviews, advising me about that kind of thing," Nevarez said.
Nevarez also talked about UNM's basketball history and how she was happy to be back in The Pit.
"Both men's and women's basketball has tremendous history here and just being in the western region. We all know what the fans bring here to basketball, so I'm really excited to be back in The Pit with a full house," Nevarez said.
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Thomas Bulger is the sports editor for the Daily Lobo. He can be contacted at email@example.com or on Twitter @thomasbulger10