Boise State and the Big East: Broncos Reconsidering Leaving Mountain West?


Yogi Berra said, “It ain’t over ’til it’s over.”

Stephen Stills sang, “Love the one you’re with.”

Both are salient points for Boise State athletics, which’s Brett McMurphy reports has its administrators meeting with Mountain West Conference brass. BSU was one of nine programs to announce a move to the Big East this past winter, along with San Diego State, Navy, UCF, Houston, Rice, SMU, Memphis and Temple. The Broncos are slated to come as a football-only member, but make no mistake: for the most financially prosperous sport and thus centerpiece of any conference, BSU was the crown jewel of the Big East’s haul.

BSU brings two Bowl Championship Series game wins, a figure that would triple the conference’s output from current members. Only Louisville, with its 2007 Orange Bowl defeat of Wake Forest, boasts a BCS win. Through coaching changes and conference turbulence, BSU has remained an upper echelon program for a decade. That’s a remarkable feat for any program playing outside the sphere of BCS influence. Still, the allure of not having to prove itself at a higher standard than others pursuing big ticket bowls was enough to woo BSU away — twice, in fact.

The Broncos accepted an invitation to the MWC in the summer of 2010, very briefly fueling talk that the conference was on its way to an automatic BCS bid. However, Utah got an offer it couldn’t refuse from the Pacific Conference; BYU’s differences with MWC commissioner Craig Thompson came to a head and led to the Cougars’ independence; and TCU played musical conferences, joining the Big East before the Big 12 came calling.

BSU was back where it started, top banana in a lower tier football league. The Big East’s BCS life preserver came at an opportune time, but may end up being a meaningless gesture. Chris Petersen’s commitment to the program means continue upward trajectory. For a program 2-0 in BCS bowls, with four undefeated regular seasons since 2004, upward means championship contention. Talk of a playoff for college football’s title contenders renders the fate of BCS bids in flux, thus BSU would sacrifice much to once again chase an automatic berth that might not exist.

Interestingly enough, it could be the other sports that play the biggest role should BSU back out on its Big East partnership. The Broncos rejoined the WAC for their other sports, but football realignment has raided that conference down to bare bones. A WAC is unlikely to exist even for Olympic sports. Opportunities elsewhere might include the Summit League and Big Sky, but both are steps down from the MWC.

Per McMurphy’s linked report, Thompson said that remaining in the MWC for its other sports was possible. But certainly the MWC would want to retain BSU’s, and conference’s most prestigious program. That is unquestionably BSU football. Further, the MWC sits at 10 members for 2013 and beyond, with San Jose State and Utah State joining the fold. Retaining BSU would move the MWC ever-closer to a conference championship game.

And if BSU stays, would San Diego State be far behind? SDSU’s football program has been on the rise in recent years, and has tremendous upside with its large TV market and deep recruiting base possibilities. However, basketball has become a flagship for the university. Tickets at Montezuma Mesa became the city’s most difficult-to-come-by commodity this past season. The MWC has established itself as a powerful basketball league; SDSU’s move to the Big West for hoops (and other sports) is risky with the program’s rise still in its infancy.

Further, no BSU means no western partner for the Aztecs in Big East football. SMU becomes SDSU’s nearest neighbor. Would the appeal of staying and making 12 be enough to keep SDSU home?

A Mountain West football title game has intriguing possibilities. San Diego is a hot vacation destination and offers premier weather in December. The conference has had success hosting its basketball in Las Vegas; could Sam Boyd Stadium fill up on championship Saturday if the conference worked to sell the weekend as an experience? All this becomes moot if BSU and SDSU remain committed to the Big East, of course. And there is a $5 million exit fee to consider.

However, the $5 million BSU is reported to owe should it back out is a pittance compared to other exit fees. The Big East lost its commissioner earlier this week, and the conference’s television possibilities are up in the air. The MWC faces a similar TV situation since losing its own network, but the closure of The Mtn. could actually work in the conference’s favor — especially if its largest TV market (SDSU) and most noteworthy program stay in the fold.