The time is right for Boise State, Mountain West to get together
The MWC is contemplating extending an invitation to Boise State this week
If Boise joined the MWC, the league would boast five BCS bids in the last six years
Boise State has attempted to join the league in the past, but has been rebuffed
It's the script of nearly every romantic comedy: Guy pursues girl. Girl resists because he's a bad boy/player/comes from the wrong side of the tracks. Guy eventually makes a romantic gesture so grand that the girl can't help but see that love's been sitting under her nose the whole time.
Man is that a cheesy way to open a column about football. But that's exactly what's been happening during the now six-year flirtation between Boise State and the Mountain West.
Come Monday, we could finally get our happy-ever-after moment. The Mountain West's Board of Directors (its schools' presidents and chancellors) is holding its annual meetings in Jackson, Wyo., and numerous reports indicate the league will hold a vote on whether to extend Boise State a long-awaited invitation.
Any expansion by the conference would require approval from seven of the nine presidents. But for a couple of exceptions, the league's decision-makers have remained largely mum on the subject, avoiding even mentioning the B-word. The parties that do talk make sure to couch any statement with the requisite cautions about the tenor of their deliberations.
"We've been looking at [expansion] models," commissioner Craig Thompson told the Deseret News. "We've been running numbers. We really haven't spent a lot of time on anything other than philosophically talking about 10."
For crying out loud. Isn't it obvious by now?
You guys need Boise, and Boise needs you. Go ahead and hook up already, would you?
A little background: Boise State President Bob Kustra -- one of the nation's more outspoken college CEOs when it comes to sports -- has been lobbying the Mountain West for an invite as far back as 2004 but was met with lukewarm reception as recently as last year. For all its success, Boise is still a relative infant on the football scene, not to mention the existing Mountain West schools -- all but one of whom were part of the old 16-team WAC that imploded -- know well the pitfalls of a league expanding too big, too quickly.
However, two recent events have apparently pushed Boise's candidacy to the forefront.
The first is Big Ten expansion. While the rest of the nation's conferences seem to be waiting helplessly for potential fallout should that league poach multiple teams, there's apparently sentiment within the Mountain West to be more proactive and begin fortifying itself before potential "Big Six" suitors come calling.
"The position of the conference has been a sort of 'Let's wait and see what happens.' We've had lots of discussions but no firm decisions," New Mexico President David Schmidly recently told the Albuquerque Journal. "I tend to be more aggressive in my thinking and not sit around and wait for things to happen to you. Go and do what you feel you need to do."
Meanwhile, halfway through a four-year evaluation period, the Mountain West suddenly finds itself in position to possibly earn an automatic BCS berth, based on a formula the BCS finally made public in late April. In order for conference to count the Broncos' data, they would need to begin play by 2011 -- and to do that, it would need to seal up Boise by the end of this month.
"That may be one of the considerations [for inviting Boise]," San Diego State President Stephen Weber told the Denver Post. "It's a pretty good reason."
To be clear, adding Boise would not guarantee the Mountain West a spot at the table. The BCS's qualifying formula stipulates that a new automatic entrant must rank among the top six leagues in three different categories -- average ranking of its highest-rated team from each season; percentage of teams in the final Top 25; and the average ranking amongst all league teams. As of now the Mountain West sits comfortably among the top six in the first two criteria but a distant seventh in the third, and even by adding Boise would not gain enough ground.
However, the BCS also lists several scenarios under which a league could apply for an "exemption" from the Presidential Oversight Committee. While it's impossible to say whether the current MWC schools and/or Boise State will continue to perform at their current level over the next two years, as of now the league would have some undeniably strong selling points by which it would seemingly merit an exemption.
As of today, said league would include three different teams (Utah, Boise State and TCU) that have combined for five BCS bids and four BCS wins over the past six seasons. Throw in BYU -- with the largest fan base and most nationally known name of the bunch -- and you're looking at a league with which most of the major bowls will want to do business.
Both the Mountain West and Boise State have spent considerable resources over the past year railing against the inequities of the current system. Most recently, a law firm they co-commissioned put together this nifty chart demonstrating the "revenue discrimination" to which they're being subjected.
But don't be fooled. For all their rhetoric about tearing down the system, both parties desperately want to be a part of it. If you both want the same thing, why not go after it together?
Admittedly, expansion decisions involve more than just BCS rankings. The Mountain West board must determine whether the benefits of Boise's on-field contributions outweigh the potential costs of splitting revenue with another member.
Unlike the Big Ten, with its thriving cable network, the MWC isn't likely to see a huge bump in interest for its channel, the Mtn., or its overall broadcast package by adding Boise, the nation's 112th-largest television market. Some will argue that the Broncos give the league a better chance of gaining a BCS at-large berth (and the accompanying paycheck) in any given year, while others may point to the increased likelihood of the league's top teams knocking each other off.
And then there's academics -- an undeniable issue whenever university presidents sit in a meeting room. Utah president Michael Young -- chairman of the MWC board -- caused some alarm for Boise fans when he gave this backhanded compliment to the Idaho Statesman: "It's a very good school with fine, fine athletic programs. It's not, in terms of its trajectory, where some of the other schools are in our league."
But wait a second. This is the Mountain West, not the Ivy League. There's not even a clear, identifiable thread amongst the various schools' academic profiles, which include a Mormon school (BYU), a Christian school (TCU), a service academy (Air Force), large public research institutions (Utah, Colorado State), a school known for its hotel and restaurant management program (UNLV) and a school known for its kick-ass parties (San Diego State). Doesn't it seem like pretty much any school would "fit" this league's "culture?"
Boise fashions itself a "rising" institution -- much like its football program. That's exactly why this marriage is made to happen.
We're sitting on the brink of potentially landmark change in college athletics. No one knows exactly what form it will take, but there's a general agreement that most major conferences as we know them won't look the same five years from now. Some will gain members, others will lose members. The most common theory is that there will be a consolidation of power, be it the extremist vision of four 16-team superconferences or the more modest thought that maybe a few leagues will distance themselves further from the rest of the pack.
Adding Boise State might not stop a Utah or TCU from jumping to the Pac-10 or Big 12 if either eventually reached that point -- but the league won't necessarily be a sitting duck, either. For all its cuddly, smurf-turf origins, Boise State is now a nationally renowned program that will likely start in the preseason top five this summer. BYU and TCU have rich histories that include national champions and Heisman winners. Utah and Boise have both notched multiple undefeated seasons over the past six years.
You'd be talking about a pretty buzz-worthy conference that, once the dust clears, may not have to fight so hard for respect. With all the money ESPN and FOX are throwing around these days, the Mountain West could even find itself on a network where people can see it once its current deals with Comcast and CBS College Sports expire in 2014.
This seems like a no-brainer, Mountain West presidents.
It's convenient to see you're holding your meetings in Wyoming, an ideal setting to do some quiet introspection. Take some time to think about the unwanted stigma your schools have been carrying all these years due to their lack of BCS affiliation. Think of the unwanted stigma Boise has been faced with due to primarily to its "newness."
Then, just like the protagonists in our mythical movie, throw caution to the wind and exclaim, "I don't care what people say about us! I just want to be with you."
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