Gene Bleymaier's Ouster from Boise State Stings, but Upholds Program's Integrity

Zachary BallAnalyst IAugust 22, 2011

Bleymaier engineered one of the greatest success stories in sports history.
Bleymaier engineered one of the greatest success stories in sports history.

Boise State has always prided itself on being different.

From the way it recruits to the coaches it hires to the many different formations used on game day, it's clear that the Broncos have the mindset that these "differences" are what set them apart from all of the other Division I football programs. And don't forget that blue field.

And while the Mountain West Conference has done its part this offseason to make sure that the Broncos no longer have an unfair advantage on their "smurf turf," the school itself made a dramatic, somewhat quixotic decision this past week to relieve athletic director Gene Bleymaier of his duties.

It wasn't a decision that was arrived at lightly, and for good reason. Bleymaier had a steady hand in guiding the program from the depths of Division II all the way to the BCS. Not only was it his decision to try using a different-colored turf, but he also implemented most of the changes over the past 20 years that have turned the BSU football program into what it is today.

Under his watch, the Broncos became the winningest football program of the 2000s, earned two BCS appearances, both of which resulted in victories, and completed a long-awaited move from the WAC to the MWC, in an effort to increase their ability to have a shot at a national championship berth.

He himself hired Dirk Koetter, Houston Nutt, Dan Hawkins and eventually Chris Petersen. He orchestrated deals with several BCS conference schools, including Oregon State, Oregon, Georgia and Virginia Tech, and navigated the many arguments about Boise State's worthiness on the national scale with tactful aplomb.

More importantly, he consistently became the "face of the franchise," so to speak, taking any added pressure off of the coaching staff and the players on whom the success of the program relies. It was Bleymaier who was a constant interviewee at Wednesday and Thursday night games on ESPN and ESPN 2, and it was he who saw fit to respond to criticisms about the legitimacy of Boise State's claims that they were one of the top teams in the country, leaving coach Chris Petersen to focus on the more important things, like winning the games to support Bleymaier's claims.

He also had a dramatic effect on a burgeoning university, one that has seen enrollment at the school skyrocket in the wake of the football team's success. He's also the primary reason that the school has jumped all the way to 34th in merchandise sales, according to a February report by the College Licensing Committee.

Ultimately, however, his story at Boise State will end with an ugly stain.

He's leaving after 31 years under fire after claims by the NCAA of "a lack of institutional control." According to reports by the NCAA's Committee on Infractions, the Broncos athletic department is guilty of major violations in women's tennis and lesser charges in football, basketball and various other sports.

Seeing as how Bleymaier was the man in charge of the athletic department, final responsibility rests with him. It's a sad exit, but if the claims by the NCAA are true, then it's a deserved one.

Luckily for Boise State, a school that has always prided itself on doing the right thing, the firing has a silver lining. In ousting Bleymaier, they have upheld their school-wide belief that following the rules is the most important thing, not winning games or taking home checks from bowl appearances.

It takes some serious gumption to cut loose the one man most responsible for the success of the greatest success story in college football history, but college president Bob Kustra showed no hesitancy in making the move, one he deemed necessary after losing his confidence in Bleymaier: 

"After a careful management review and discussions about the future of the program, I determined that new leadership will be needed as we commit ourselves to the highest level of attention and enforcement of NCAA standards, and also continue to move Boise State athletics to the next level of success."

Reading between the lines it can be gleaned that Kustra didn't think Bleymaier was the right man for the job of making sure Boise State dramatically improved their compliance with the NCAA as they continue to increase their national profile. Remember what Uncle Ben taught us: "With great power comes great responsibility."

In today's complicated world of recruiting and compliance, it's not surprising that Boise State was finally brought down to the level that critics and opposing fans have long hoped for, but what is surprising is that the school acted so strongly, so firmly to shore up its foundation in an attempt to make sure this kind of thing never happened again.

That, too, is something different.

I honestly wouldn't expect to see Auburn or Ohio State, or any of the other schools who have been the target of NCAA investigations, pulling the trigger on their athletic director. Heck, the Buckeyes dismissed one of the greatest coaches in college history on the basis of hiding information that was material to an ongoing investigation, when in reality, the greatest arbiter of compliance on campus is in fact the athletic director.

All around the nation, Bronco fans have reacted with outrage, confusion and utter disbelief at the dismissal of Bleymaier, but what they should be thinking is that they're lucky enough to know for an absolute fact that their school is committed to doing whatever it takes to win, as long as it remains within the legal confines of compliance.

And if you go outside those bounds, you will have to pay the consequences. 

It's hard to find an athletic director who has a resume as accomplished as Bleymaier, and as a result, he'll likely have a pretty easy time finding his next gig. Just imagine what he could accomplish with a budget that doubles or even triples the size of the current BSU expenditures.

The Broncos, on the other hand, will turn to interim AD Curt Apsey, who previously held the position of senior associate athletic director. After the 2011 season, the school will conduct a nationwide search for a successor to Bleymaier, and no doubt it will draw some pretty worthy candidates, but be warned before you step into a room with Bob Kustra.

He and the school he looks after do things differently.