The Mountain West Conference (MW) is one of the collegiate athletic conferences affiliated with the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Division I Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) (formerly I-A). The MW officially began operations in July 1999. Geographically, the MW covers a broad expanse of the Western United States, with member schools located in California, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming. Craig Thompson has served as Commissioner of the MW since its founding in 1999.|
In spring 1998, BYU and Utah proposed a permanent split into two eight-team divisions. The proposal would have forced some schools into an unnatural alignment because of the geographic distribution of the conference. Air Force was the most strident opponent of this proposal, threatening to become an independent. Soon after the proposal by BYU and Utah, the presidents of Air Force, BYU, Colorado State, Utah, and Wyoming met at Denver International Airport to discuss their future, and they agreed to break away from the WAC to form a new conference. They invited the WAC members New Mexico, San Diego State, and UNLV to join them in what became the Mountain West Conference.
During the era of football's Bowl Championship Series (BCS), which was replaced by the College Football Playoff (CFP) in 2014, the MW champion qualified for a BCS bowl four times after the BCS formula was tweaked to allow teams from non-BCS conferences to play in BCS bowls if ranked in the top 12. However, two of the three schools that qualified are no longer with the conference.
Beginning in 2013, the conference split into two divisions, named the "Mountain Division" and "West Division," of six teams each for football. The Mountain West also added a conference championship game, pitting the winners of the two divisions. This first championship game took place on December 7, 2013 at Bulldog Stadium in Fresno, California, the home stadium of Fresno State, the divisional winner with the higher BCS ranking. Each team plays five divisional games and three cross-divisional contests annually. The 2015 championship game featured the Air Force Academy Falcons against the San Diego State University Aztecs. The 2016 championship game featured the San Diego State University Aztecs against the University of Wyoming Cowboys.
The Mountain West and Missouri Valley Conferences hold an annual challenge series that was renewed in the 2015–16 season after a two-year hiatus. The series began in the 2009-10 season but temporarily ended when the original contract ran out after the 2012-13 season, During the first four seasons of the series, it involved all members of the MW and an equal number of the 10 MVC teams in basketball. With the MW now having 11 basketball members to the MVC's 10, the renewed series involves all MVC teams, with one MW team sitting out.
The first game was on November 13, 2009, featuring the Bradley Braves and the BYU Cougars in Provo and it concluded on December 23 with the Wyoming Cowboys visiting the Northern Iowa Panthers in Cedar Falls, Iowa. The challenge is similar to the ACC-Big Ten Challenge, which pits men's basketball teams from the Atlantic Coast Conference and the Big Ten Conference.
The Mountain West's slogan is "Above the rest," and over half of the member institutions, plus women's soccer-only member Colorado College, are at more than 4,000 feet (1,200 metres) above sea level. This impacts endurance in sports like football, soccer, and the distance races in track & field and swimming meets, and aerodynamics in baseball, softball, tennis, golf, and the discus and javelin throws. The Mountain West's institutions have the highest average elevations in NCAA Division I sports.