Boise State Football: A Long, Brief History with the Mountain West Conference
Most casual fans of college football believe that the Boise State Broncos have only had a brief history with the Mountain West Conference. However, Bronco fans know that this is simply untrue.
The Broncos pursued the Mountain West for a number of years before eventually winning the affections of the hard-to-get conference. It was a strenuous, hopeful and often heartbreaking quest that seemed to end in a story book finish when Boise State finally found a home among the ranks of the MWC.
Of course, what happened next no one could have seen coming. Boise State showed up to the prom all dressed up but no one to dance with. The competition the Broncos were seeking stood them up, and the once beautiful bride-to-be suddenly had vanished leaving an anemic and unattractive shadow of what might have been.
For those who blame the Broncos for the divorce, you may want to know the history before you come to your verdict. Let's look at the long and brief history of Boise State and the Mountain West.
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The Mountain West Conference was of course a rebel from the beginning. Eight teams that were in a much bloated 16 team WAC decided to take their ball and start their own conference in 1998.
The first official season of the conference was 1999, and it appeared to be a pioneer and an upcoming conference with much ambition and a bright future.
Air Force, BYU, Colorado State, New Mexico, San Diego State, UNLV, Utah and Wyoming set out for more than a three-hour-tour in hopes that they could create their own powerful island among the continent conferences of college athletics.
The beginning showed much promise and many reasons to be optimistic. The strategy of the conference seemed to be slow growth and calculated risks when necessary.
The Mountain West started its first season with a seven-year contract with ESPN to televise several of its football games. They also secured deals to send the MWC champion to the Liberty Bowl, another team to the Las Vegas Bowl and a third to the Motor City Bowl in 1999. In 2002, a deal was made with the Emerald Bowl in San Fransisco. In following years, several other bowls were added in various combinations, including the Independence Bowl, the New Mexico Bowl and the Poinsettia Bowl in San Diego, California.
The Mountain West also has the distinction of placing the first ever "non-automatic-qualifier" into a BCS Bowl game. Utah scored a victory in the 2005 Fiesta Bowl against Big East champion Pittsburgh 35-7.
2005 was also the year that TCU officially became a member of the Mountain West, and the conference appeared to be headed for great heights.
What most people don't realize, or perhaps have forgotten, is that Boise State was lobbying heavily to gain entrance to the conference at the same time that TCU was. However, they were passed by in favor of TCU, and many Bronco fans have not forgotten that.
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In 2006, the Mountain West took another progressive step. Playing the role of the up and coming new kid on the block, the Mountain West became the first conference to launch its own television network. Which, historically speaking, is quite remarkable in and of itself.
The network was supposed to be cutting edge, elevating en devour that would raise the MWC to the ranks of the elite conferences in college football. However, what it did was stifle the very progress they were looking for.
On September 1, 2006, The Mountain West Sports Network was launched. Known simply as "The Mtn." It was a joint effort with CBS Sports, NBC Sports and Comcast SportsNet. The slogan of the channel was "Where the West is Won". But, in hindsight it may very well be how the Mountain West was lost.
At its peak the Mountain West Network produced several exclusive broadcasts including Mountain West football, basketball, baseball, softball and several other conference Olympic sports. They also produced several programs that featured analysis by commentators and interviews and insights with various coaches.
The downfall of the Mountain West Network, and perhaps the conference itself, came when limited availability of the channel caused very limited exposure and frustration among some of the key institutions in the conference.
In a USA Today article in 2010, reporter Eric Smith notes that BYU was quite frustrated with the television contract. Boise State President Bob Kustra is quoted in the article as saying that the television deal was "the main reason Brigham Young wants to leave the conference."
It was a rude awakening for President Kustra who had lobbied heavily for the Broncos to be included in the MWC since his arrival at Boise State in 2003. Again, most people don't realize it, but the Mountain West was the target of the Broncos for many years.
Boise State did everything they could to be included in the MWC, but year-after-year, their advances were thwarted. Bronco fans remember the many rumors and hopes that their beloved Broncos would be included with the likes of Utah, BYU and TCU.
However, year-after-year and report-after-report, the Broncos and their fans had nothing but disappointment.
In 2010, after six long years of active pursuit and subsequent rejections, Boise State was finally invited to the Mountain West Conference.
The administration, the coaches, players of every Boise State sport and Bronco fans of all shapes and sizes celebrated. It was a dream come true.
For those who remember, it was a festive day with so much hope and optimism. However, looking back on it, the comments of Mountain West commissioner Craig Thompson were a bit telling. In an Idaho Press-Tribune article by Tom Fox, Boise State President Bob Kustra shared the welcoming comments of Thompson.
“Well, Charlie Brown got a chance to kick the football, and it went right through the uprights, and you’ve been invited to join the Mountain West.”
President Kustra even used those same "Charlie Brown" comments when he officially announced the addition of the Broncos to the MWC.
However, think about it. Charlie Brown is known as the lovable loser who is continually tricked by Lucy to attempt to kick the ball. But, every time he tries, she moves the ball. Is that how commissioner Thompson thought of Boise State? The lovable loser? The charity case? The one who is easy to fool and manipulate?
Watch the video posted here and think about how ironic it is for the Broncos situation. The one time they were able to kick the ball, there is a catch. Soon after kicking the Mountain West football, Boise State found out that Utah was bolting for the new Pac-12, TCU was leaving for the Big East and BYU was willing to be independent rather than spend another year in the Mountain West.
Not to mention, as a condition of joining the MWC, the Broncos were forced to give up their traditional blue-on-blue uniforms at home, which is like making Colorado State give up their green on green uniforms. Oh wait, Colorado State didn't have to do that.
It may be appropriate that a kicking analogy was used when entering the MWC. After all, the Broncos have had their share of problems in the kicking game.
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Boise State so much wanted to be a part of the Mountain West Conference. For years they pursued the goal of being included. Once the dream was realized, the conference began to lose key members and it was made much less than what BSU had dreamed of.
Imagine, if you will, the Mountain West doesn't lose BYU, Utah and TCU. Imagine also that the commissioner and key members of the MWC would have welcomed the Broncos sooner rather than later. Imagine also that the MWC would have kept its deal with ESPN instead of trying to do their own thing. Where would the young conference be right now?
The answer to that question and many others will never be answered. However, the heartbreaking thing for many Bronco fans is the question of what might have been?
When the Big East came calling in 2011, Boise State had to look at that option seriously. The Mountain West, although geographically a fit, financially and competitively it lacks what the Broncos need.
The Big East is a step up in competition with the likes of Houston, SMU, Rutgers, Cincinnati, South Florida and Louisville . It will also be much more rewarding financially and gives the Broncos much more exposure and a greater recruiting footprint. The additional money form conference revenues should also help with the expansion of facilities and improvements in academics.
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On May 31, 2012, the Mountain West Sports Network went dark and closed its doors. On June 30, 2012, the Boise State Broncos officially notified every MWC institution and the conference itself that they were leaving for the Big East in 2013.
It has been a long and yet brief history for the Broncos with the Mountain West. They pursued the MWC for many years and it is a sad end to a relationship that could have been much, much more.
Overall, the Big East is a great fit for Boise State. In fact, if you think about it, the Big East is like the "Boise State" of conferences. People are counting out the Big East and trying to discount it, but it just keeps coming back. The two are kindred spirits and the future will certainly be interesting.
Also, it sure seems like the Big East wanted Boise State. They pursued the Broncos with vigor and have no problem with the blue-on-blue uniforms. The same can't be said of the Mountain West.
Boise State will enter their new conference in a much better way this time around.
This time, they don't make their debut as Charlie Brown just happy to be there. Instead, the Broncos will enter as Rocky Balboa looking for another challenge. It is who they are at the core, and any reference that doesn't include kicking is probably a good one.