Do the leaders of CSU and UNM have their eyes on the ball?
Dennis Dodds reports Colorado State and New Mexico's athletic directors have been discussing trying to create a new conference that would feature both schools as well as Big East schools San Diego State, Southern Methodist, and Houston.
The idea is that if CSU and New Mexico can convince either Boise State or Brigham Young University to join them, they will have the geography and the powerful brands to convince the two Texas schools and San Diego State to lend their large media markets to the cause.
On the surface this appears to be mutinous talk. Their home conference, the Mountain West Conference, would be thrilled to convince that trio of schools to join Boise State in the MWC.
Now perhaps leaking this story was strictly about generating a little 11th-hour leverage to get CBSSports to renegotiate the MWC TV deal, but that may not be the case.
If it is a legitimate idea under consideration, I think it is actually a surprisingly sound proposition.
My feeling this way should not surprise anyone who has read my Big East articles in the recent past. I have long thought that an alliance between SMU and Houston, and CSU and UNM makes sense on a number of financial levels, be it in the Big East or otherwise.
While the Big East may still have a little life left, and their membership may have something to say about a start-up stealing their members, it is actually quite a sensible thought to imagine such a conference and doubly so to leak the idea today so fans and boosters can mull it over.
The MWC cannot afford to boot out CSU or UNM without hurting the conference's financial potential. Colorado State provides a strong following in the Denver DMA (one of the MWC's few top-20 DMAs), and retaining UNM basketball is very important in terms of NCAA invites.
CSU and UNM should just continue to be very honest about their desires. Both schools would do better long-term if they were affiliated with SMU and Houston. There is no guarantee even an improved MWC will land either Texas school.
The Big East may (or may not) be vulnerable
It is easy to pronounce the Big East as dead. Fans like to look at Boise State as an EKG for the conference, but they are likely doing themselves a disservice by taking that simplistic of a view.
Boise State is not Notre Dame, USC, Michigan or Texas (Notre Dame vs. USC drew a 10.3 rating on ABC last month). The Broncos football program is not even a Nebraska, Alabama or Florida.
Contrary to conventional wisdom, Boise State does not have one of the nation's largest fan bases.
Boise State averaged 34,018 fans per football game in 2012. That puts them in the bottom half of the FBS in attendance.
They are located in a city of 205,000 that is ranked as the 104th largest city in America by population. Their metro population is 616,000—they don't even break a million. Their state is the 39th most populated in the US with a little over 1.5 million residents. The US has 314 million people.
Now I don't want to be unfair to Boise State. I only point these unflattering realities out for perspective.
Boise State has a lot in their favor too. Their annual struggles to earn entrance into a BCS AQ bowl and possibly the national title game have made them a national curiosity in college football. (Maybe the only one, now that TCU has graduated to the Big 12.)
Their TV numbers are generally fairly strong and matchups versus atypical opponents, who have a reasonable shot of upsetting Boise State, have drawn even stronger TV numbers.
Their 2010 game against Virginia Tech drew an awesome 7.3 rating, one of the highest rated college football games in ESPN history.
Now a lot of factors helped that game. It was the season opener for both teams, meaning fans were hungry for football. Virginia Tech has a large and enthusiastic fan base and may have had one of their best teams in a while that year.
There was a lot at risk for each school, especially for a season opener. There was a solid chance that the winner of that game could run the table and potentially end up with a seat in a national title matchup and the loser was out of the title race. It was great theater.
That said, Boise State still pulled a terrific rating, and there is every reason to believe a similar TV matchup (or even matchups) could be made in the Big East most years. The Big East gives Boise State a number of less familiar foes to play (some with large fan bases). For the Broncos, that lack of familiarity may be a positive, making the games seem more special, once a decade (or more) matchups.
The early season 2011 game between Boise State and Toledo drew a MAC record 2.2 rating (for games in MAC stadiums).
That's the thing that is compelling about Boise State as a matchup. Boise State is an opponent that draws great viewership against the better teams in top, middle and bottom-level FBS conferences. Fans of those strong schools all want to measure their teams against an unfamiliar top-notch opponent in Boise State.
That's a great attribute, but does it equate to a high rating when Boise State plays a bad Big East program like Memphis? Or will ratings of games like that reflect the modest sizes of each schools' attendance and the local market sizes?
How many top media matchups can the Big East expect to realistically put up against Boise State each year?
The reality is that in the new bowl-game setup, the plight of Boise State is probably not going to be as newsworthy as it has been. The kinds of ratings the Big East and Boise State hoped for may not be there. The negotiations with the networks may be starting to reflect that.
The Big East was about money and Boise State's dilemma
Probably more than any other school joining the Big East, Boise State was strictly chasing the money.
It is easy to look at Boise State in an unfavorable light, but it may not be fair. Boise State has been building value for years. Realignment is where that value is spent.
In this changing environment, Boise State likely feels a need to cash-in today, before their leverage erodes.
Their program has a very hot name in coaching circles. Chris Peterson has a .913 winning percentage. That is ridiculous. Stanford tried to hire him. Some day soon, a team that makes sense to Peterson is going to call.
In order to have a shot to retain his services long-term, Boise State is going to have to pay him well and invest a lot of money in facilities and their stadium.
Boise State is not a wealthy school.
Football is Boise State's identity. Their athletic department probably has to chase money as hard as they can to keep the coach who has that program laying those golden eggs. It is very, very hard to maintain that level of excellence over a series of coaches.
Playing as a distant outlier in a conference can bleed the competitiveness out of a strong sports program. To land a fat annual TV check, Boise State risked that outcome by becoming a football-only member of the Big East.
If that check isn't that fat, where will the value come from for Boise State?
It appears the Big East isn't in a hurry to add Boise State as an all-sports member. The conference would likely also have to add a number of nearby western all-sports members to appease Boise State in that scenario.
Frankly at this point it makes sense for Boise State (and the Big East) to look at their options and make sure this marriage still makes sense. Boise State's options would include a return to the MWC.
The MWC has renegotiated their TV deal allowing the potential of recovering Boise State.
Boise State is apparently trying to leverage the Big East and the MWC against each other. If either conference will take the unprecedented move of allowing Boise State to retain media ownership of their home games, the Broncos will likely "commit" to that conference.
In that scenario, Boise State seems likely to be able to sell those games to secure a deal that pays them at least the $5-6 Million dollars annually that the school hoped to land as a football-only member of the Big East.
It may be that the MWC will ultimately grind their teeth and make Boise State that offer. After all, it may be in the MWC's interest to play ball as, in media terms, a diminished Boise State is just another Nevada-Reno—still a nice add but not one that creates that much media attention and TV revenue in the grand scheme of things.
If they receive such an offer from the MWC, Boise State may feel compelled to take that invitation.
Prior to Boise State's new demands being made public, Sports Illustrated's Pete Thamel reported that the impression was that Boise State leaving the Big East was inevitable.
Do not assume San Diego State, Houston, and SMU think like Boise State
Should Boise State feel they have to move to the MWC, it doesn't mean San Diego State, Houston or SMU are in the same position with their relationships with the Big East and the Mountain West Conferences.
Unlike Boise State, SDSU has an elite basketball program they could potentially leverage into an all-sports membership in the Big East. They are also much closer to Texas than Boise State.
Additionally, SDSU appears to have burned some bridges on their way out of the MWC. The school's leadership is being quite firm in voicing their commitment to the Big East.
The Big East is a better home in recruiting terms for SDSU than the MWC. It is pretty easy to imagine Texas high school stars being intrigued by going to college in vibrant Southern California—if their parents can still drive to see them play in a few games each year in Texas and other nearby states.
The geography of the Big East is better for Houston and SMU than the geography of the MWC.
Both schools left Conference USA for better money. Both are still on track to see better money in the Big East than in the MWC or C-USA, even if Boise State is not on board with the Big East.
Now it is true that Houston does have an escape clause if there is not enough money there, but would they use it to rejoin a watered down Conference USA?
Would they take less money to join the MWC?
Remember Houston wanted no part of the WAC after the end of the Southwest Conference. Houston quickly decided to go east.
SMU is a similar situation. They spent years trying to get out of the WAC and into Conference USA with Houston and Tulane. Are the Mustangs going to be enthusiastic to rejoin Conference USA and be considered conference peers with UNT? The answer there is "no".
They are also going to look at a MWC offer and see exactly what the WAC offered—hard travel and little TV money.
Could SDSU turn tail and sheepishly follow Boise State back to the MWC? Sure. Anything is possible. But that doesn't make it predestined, and it may not even make it likely.
All of these schools' leaderships do not want to eat any crow (let alone lots of it) or accept lesser athletic situations.
They are not running the table in their conferences most years. The strength of competition and the media composition of their conferences matter to them in a way they may not to Boise State.
If Boise State ends up back in the MWC, the Broncos will likely be looking at a better deal than other MWC members. It is unlikely SMU, Houston or San Diego State would be offered a similar special deal.
All three schools are likely still wanting to see if things can work out in the Big East, regardless of what Boise State does. There is nothing suggesting a big lump of money awaits any of these other schools in the MWC.
The Big East flirts with UNLV and Fresno State
Prior to CBSSports agreeing to renegotiate the MWC TV deal, the Big East was once more rumored to be talking to UNLV and Fresno State. Perhaps that was also to encourage CBSSport to renegotiate, lest rival network NBC land a Big East buoyed by MWC defections.
What we do know is that both MWC schools so far have stuck with the MWC.
MWC fans might think to applaud UNLV and Fresno State for their loyalty to the MWC in the face of (allegedly) multiple Big East approaches and censure CSU and UNM for a perceived lack of loyalty, but one must understand that the MWC is a great footprint for UNLV and Fresno State.
They are right in the center of the conference and have great recruiting access to the MWC's main recruiting grounds (California). It is easy for them to be content being loyal.
A MWC with Boise State does little for CSU or UNM if there are not strong Texas schools coming along for the ride. And whether any Texas schools come along for the ride is very much an open question—even if Boise State and BYU rejoin the MWC in some fashion.
There has been a constant push in the conference to re-recruit UTEP over the last couple years.
What MWC schools do you think have been pushing the idea of pulling in UTEP and another Texas school? CSU and UNM wanting to gain better access to Texas recruiting is not some shocking, out-of-the-blue idea.
By unveiling this new conference idea, UNM and CSU may have opened the eyes of the Big East to consider adding the central duo instead of UNLV and Fresno State.
There is an argument that they are stronger candidates than Fresno State and UNLV anyway. Adding the central duo could dramatically impact the position of Air Force on the MWC/Big East question. That in turn could make Army and BYU joining much more likely.
The cleverness of the UNM/CSU idea and the potential of an east coast Big East implosion
Now the Big East could still implode in the next six months or so.
As I mentioned in my last article, there are rumors that the Big 10 is planning to raid the ACC some time in the next year, with January being specifically mentioned as a likely time frame.
Should that happen, the ACC (potentially mostly former Big East members at that point) would likely backfill with the schools they previously thought of enough to vote to admit into the football Big East years ago (UConn, Cincinnati and/or USF).
Should the ACC admit even two of that trio, those outgoing schools could vote to implode the Big East on their way out.
Doing so would cause any NCAA Tournament money units to revert to the schools that earned those units (getting much of that money into ACC hands).
One of the big potential attractors of the Big East is that over the next four to five years, the incoming schools might be looking at inheriting $80 to $100-plus million in NCAA monetary-unit payouts earned by all the teams that left.
NCAA rules suggest that the Big East retaining those units is still likely to occur based on what has been said by the Big East, but that isn't a certainty since the terms of the Catholic Schools' departure from the Big East are not known and are suspiciously being kept very quiet by the league office. There could be more going on there that might impact how the NCAA rules on conferences retaining NCAA monetary units are applied.
If the conference is dissolved by two of that trio, the incoming football schools may never see much or potentially even any of that NCAA tournament money.
What fans should not overlook is that even at that point, forming a new conference with the teams likely to be available could still be much more lucrative for SMU and Houston than rejoining C-USA or joining an improved Boise State-led MWC.
Should Houston and SMU want to drag in Memphis and Tulane, as well as maybe the Florida giants (UCF and USF), to take a shot at building a new conference that pays more then the MWC or C-USA, they now know that UNM and CSU are game, and the duo are willing to try to use their influence to try to lure in BYU and/or Boise State.
If this was more than a renegotiating ploy with CBSSports, it was smart to get this idea out there.