At the conclusion of the regular season, the Big Ten Conference made its future intentions public by admitting the search for a 12th team was in full force.
Rumors immediately swirled around the Midwest. Sports talk shows throughout the region were filled with callers who had grand ideas on what schools should join and why. Among them, the University of Notre Dame, the University of Pittsburgh and Rutgers University.
One school was seemingly omitted from this conversation. It’s stunning, considering that it may be the one school best suited for the Big Ten.
Hello, Boise State University.
Geographically, this makes no sense whatsoever. In a conference dominated by states bordering the Great Lakes, adding a team on the West side of the country would be a traveling nightmare.
But in every other aspect, this is a perfect marriage.
When the Big Ten decided it wanted to add a 12th team, it was implied that the search was for a school willing to join in every sport. But don’t be fooled. This is about football; the other sports are an added bonus.
The Big Ten made this announcement shortly after watching the Big 12 Conference, the Atlantic Coast Conference and the Southeastern Conference make the big bucks on sponsorship deals, national television audiences and capacity crowds buying tickets, souvenirs and food items in NFL stadiums.
In a conference where the competition in the past decade has been less than stellar and the lack of a championship game has been a public relations disaster, the Big Ten doesn’t just need a 12th team. It needs a sexy team. It needs a team outside of the traditional precedence that boasts decades and decades of national dominance.
Enter Boise State.
In a state known for producing quality potatoes and sophomoric sexual innuendos (divide the syllables in “Idaho”), somehow a school just shy of 19,000 students—in the biggest city in the state—has produced some of the best college football.
Boise State is this generation’s Notre Dame. The Irish were at the top because of the Four Horsemen, its affiliation with by-the-book Catholic values, and its high academic standards.
The Broncos are anything but that. That’s why this country loves Boise State.
The team plays on blue turf. They run gadget plays constantly. Fakes, misdirections and quirky wrinkles traditionally reserved for Disney movies about football are the norm in Boise, Idaho.
Oh, yeah. They also win.
Since 2002, they’ve won seven Western Athletic Conference championships. The lone absence was in 2007, and the school still went 7-1 in conference play.
In the eight-season span from 2002-09, the Broncos are 94-11 (four of those losses came in 2005). In conference play, the squad is 62-2. They have lost exactly one regular season game since 2006, and two overall (a previously undefeated team lost to Texas Christian University in the 2008 Poinsettia Bowl).
At home, the Broncos are 73-2 in the past 75 games. That’s a record that dates back to 1998. The last time Boise lost at home was in 2001 against Washington State University. In other words, Boise State hasn’t lost at Bronco Stadium in 56 consecutive games.
In 2009, Boise State played 13 regular season games, one more than the 12 games NCAA teams are supposed to play. This is relevant because the Broncos went above and beyond in an attempt to make up for the lackluster strength of schedule.
Now, why does this matter to the Big Ten?
The conference is trying to re-establish its name. The Broncos are clearly among the most popular teams in college football today, especially in the 18 to 25 demographic. Or, in other words, the college-aged.
In a generation that includes YouTube, short attention spans, and what-have-you-done-for-me-lately mindsets, Boise State has become the shy quiet girl in high school that got really hot in college. But now, she’s got your attention.
Head coach Chris Petersen (49-4 in four seasons) has built a national powerhouse in the middle of nowhere, with facilities far inferior than those in big market areas. He’s recruited the best in the country while having the backdrop of playing in a conference lucky to be considered a mid-major.
He has still been able to keep his players excited, despite the fact that the second half of the season has become a glorified scrimmage. Imagine what he could do if he had the luxury of adding a major conference wrinkle to his recruiting itinerary.
College football big wigs and BCS executives have tried to discredit Boise State’s accomplishments by using the conference schedules and less than challenging non-conference game by saying the school doesn’t play anyone legitimate enough to play in national title games.
The problem here is that no big-name school wants to play Boise State.
Traditionally, powerhouse schools will bring in two to three schools that are slower, smaller, and weaker into their stadiums, use the games as scrimmages, make the home fans happy, and then take on conference foes.
Boise State doesn’t have this luxury. Combine the lack of serious big-money resources, a stadium that only seats 33,500, and the dominant home-field advantage. It becomes a scramble to find a team willing to play on the Broncos' turf.
On the other end, high-profile schools looking for a tune-up don’t want to bring in Boise State and risk the possible embarrassment in front of 100,000 supporters.
It’s a no-win situation for the Broncos. Unless the Big Ten gets involved.
Moving to a prominent conference will allow the Broncos to host legitimate teams and walk into top stadiums every week. The only thing more intriguing than watching Boise go to the Big House, the Horseshoe and Happy Valley is watching the University of Michigan, Ohio State University and Penn State University play on the blue turf.
The Big Ten would also expand its national exposure, entering into markets out West. It would be the first major conference to span across the continental United States, as well.
And while it seems illogical, it’s been done before. College hockey’s CCHA includes Michigan, Ohio State and Notre Dame, but also currently hosts the University of Alaska and considered the University of Alabama-Huntsville for membership.
As for the Big Ten-Boise State marriage, it’s a win-win for both programs. The Big Ten gets its 12th team, its conference championship game, added sex appeal and a shot at returning to prominence. Boise State gets its challenging schedule, better exposure each week and a shot at the national title.
Will the Big Ten consider the school? It’s unlikely, given the location and the lack of booming athletic programs across the board. But if the conference fails to look at the Broncos, BSU might catch on elsewhere and help improve that conference’s credibility.
And that might further prove why the Big Ten has lost so much cred throughout the years.