When Boise State announced in December that it would return to the Mountain West Conference, Bronco Nation collectively let out a huge sigh of relief.
The Big East, for more reasons than one, was not the right fit for the Blue and Orange.
For a short amount of time, it appeared as though the move to one of college football’s “Big Six” conferences would be a step up for the university. But it quickly became clear that such a move would not elevate Boise State’s status any more than staying in the Mountain West Conference would hinder it.
Based on the current state of the conference, which was renamed the American Athletic Conference on April 3, it is easy to say that Boise State dodged a bullet.
But why, exactly?
We’ll broadly investigate some of the main reasons that sentiment isn’t an understatement. Put simply, it comes down to money, the strength of both the Mountain West and Big East Conferences, and the general direction that college football as a whole is headed.
New TV Deal Equals More Money
Regardless of what everyone in power would like fans to believe, college athletics is all about the green. And for Boise State, rejoining the Mountain West had a lot to do with the green as well.
One of the driving factors behind the university’s decision to rejoin the Mountain West at the end of 2012 was that the conference promised Boise State that home football games would be offered separately from the rest of the conference.
Mountain West Commissioner Craig Thompson doesn’t have to sugarcoat things to appease the rest of the league. Everyone knows that Boise State is the cash cow for the conference and that the nation is more interested in Boise State than any other team in the Mountain West.
The Big East probably knew this as well, but was unwilling to budge with regard to a separate TV deal for the Broncos.
Thanks to the deal reached with the Mountain West, at least three Boise State home football games must be broadcast nationally on ESPN, ESPN2 or ABC for the next seven years.
As a result of those nationally televised games, the university will rake in the dough. Boise State is set to make a $300,000 bonus for each game broadcast on one of those channels and will make $200,000 more if the game is played on Saturday.
It is difficult and frankly unfair to speculate on what the Big East was planning to offer the Broncos, but based on the decision the school made, one can assume that it was not as sweet a deal as the one they have now.
Money talks and the Broncos listened. No one can blame them for that.
The Balance Scale Favors the MWC
Here’s a blind taste test of conferences: One has Nevada, San Diego State and Air Force and will soon have San Jose State and Utah State. The other has Cincinnati, Connecticut and South Florida and will soon have East Carolina, Tulane, Tulsa and Navy.
Which one would you rather have your school part of going forward for football?
A college football fan or someone keeping up with conference realignment has little trouble identifying these conferences as the Mountain West and newly named American Athletic Conference. But the point is still made.
The Mountain West Conference stacks up favorably against the competitor, even when you remove Boise State from the equation.
The benefit of this is twofold. Not only does the Mountain West seem like a more attractive summit for teams looking to join a potential superconference (especially to teams in the Western half of the United States), but it is also a more coveted product for TV networks.
While CBS Sports Network is still the primary network for the Mountain West, ESPN has also signed a lucrative deal with the conference that will highlight Boise State football.
The Big East recently agreed to a deal with ESPN as well, but at a major cost. The deal, which is worth $130 million over seven years, equals about what the conference would have made annually had it signed a deal with the network two years ago.
The deals made by the conferences are a sign of one league climbing the ladder while the other is falling steadily.
The Mountain West is gaining steam, while the American Athletic Conference had to reach out to Tulsa and East Carolina simply to survive.
All Conference Arguments Aside, It’s About the Nonconference Slate
Thanks to the new college football playoff format that will go into effect next season, what conference you are in may not have as much bearing on your chances of getting a shot at the national championship as it did under the current system in place.
Rather, a tough out-of-conference schedule could help propel you into the playoff discussion.
This is good news for Boise State, which has scheduled matchups with Florida State, Michigan State, Oklahoma State, Ole Miss, Oregon State, Virginia and Washington in upcoming seasons.
Gone are the days when fans could lean on the argument that Boise State didn’t test itself out of conference.
What athletic directors are quickly learning about the new landscape of college football is that it will be essential to prove to the voters that your team is really a national title contender early in the year.
A loss won’t necessarily oust you from contention.
This, along with the fact that the American Athletic Conference will be relegated to the same status as the Mountain West Conference once the playoff format is instituted, makes Boise State’s decision to stick with the MWC a smart one.
If you’re not getting the benefit of a preferred conference, then what is the point of traveling halfway across the country every Saturday for conference matchups?
The sound of crickets chirping is almost unbearable.
The Mountain West is on equal ground with the new Big East/American Athletic Conference. If it wasn’t clear back in December, it’s obvious with the new playoff format explained.
More money, comparable competition and equal status. Throw in sensibility from a geographical standpoint, and you’ve got several solid reasons why Boise State made a smart decision by sticking with the Mountain West Conference.