BOISE — Boise State’s football team is one giant step closer to joining the Big East Conference.
The Idaho State Board of Education approved a motion Thursday to give Boise State president Bob Kustra the power to accept a Big East invitation. Boise State’s request for permission stated “while no invitation to join has been extended at this time, the university anticipates an offer is imminent and is requesting board approval to proceed in the best interests of the university should an offer be extended.”
Speaking via teleconference to the State Board, Kustra said Boise State and Air Force would be asked to join as football-only members, and mentioned Central Florida, SMU and Houston as all-sports members. Unlike when the Broncos joined the Mountain West Conference in the summer of 2010, a move that was pined for since 2003, Kustra told the Idaho Press-Tribune on Oct. 15 the school would take more time to ponder a move should an invitation be extended.
“I would think that by next week we should have a resolution to this matter,” Kustra said Thursday to the board, noting that the Mountain West now is not what the Broncos envisioned with the losses of Utah, BYU and TCU since they accepted their invitation.
According to the motion, Boise State would join the Big East prior to the 2013 football season, granting the Broncos at least one season in an automatic qualifying BCS league — the automatic bids will be re-evaluated before the 2014 season. With more than one year of advance notice, the Broncos would avoid paying a $5 million exit fee to the Mountain West and would only forfeit 2012’s conference distribution. Travel costs for the football team would increase by as much as $300,000, but since the team charters flights already, it would not be a major problem.
“For us, that’s not that big of a deal, how we travel,” football coach Chris Petersen said last month. “It’s all doable, it’s do all the other things make sense? Don’t kid yourself, these guys are all over it here, they’re analyzing everything.”
The board approved the motion while stressing the move be partially dependent on the creation of a western division, which would include Boise State, Air Force, Houston, SMU and two other schools, which Kustra said “would be very solid citizens.” Reports have stated that BYU, currently an independent, could be one of them. At the moment, Cincinnati and Louisville would be in the western division. The Broncos likely would have at least one road game against an eastern division foe.
“From the beginning, there’s been an understanding that the Big East is interested in building a western division,” Kustra said. “… If Boise State was going to go in, we’d go in with a western partner.
“We will not join until we know that we’ve locked arms with at least one other real western university.”
Television money and BCS affiliation are two of the biggest reasons the Broncos would leave, and the school noted that Big East members are paid about $3.7 million per year under the current media contract, as opposed to $1.4-$1.9 million in the MWC. The Big East will renegotiate next year, and though just how much money it could bring in, Kustra expects it to be higher than it is right now.
“No guarantees, but a very strong likelihood, in my judgment,” he said.
One hurdle to the move has been where Boise State would send its other sports — Mountain West commissioner Craig Thompson said last month if the football team leaves, its other sports would not be able to remain in the MWC.
Kustra said Boise State has spoken with multiple leagues, but has focused on “one particular western conference” in recent days to house its other sports and could reach an agreement “in the next day or so.”
Reached by phone on Thursday night, WAC commissioner Karl Benson said “I really can’t comment … I’m not prepared to speak to the issue at the moment, but if and when there’s a reason to discuss it, I will.” Benson acknowledged he has spoken to Boise State, but did not detail how recently or to what extent. The Big West is another possible conference home, as reports last week said they had discussions with the Broncos.
Speaking candidly about the flux of conference realignment, Kustra said that Boise State’s departure, along with the other schools bound for the Big East, could send dominoes toppling. He said the Mountain West would likely take Utah State from the Western Athletic Conference to replace Boise State and that Conference USA would take the WAC’s Louisiana Tech and New Mexico State.
“There’s definitely an impact,” Kustra said.
“No matter what conference you’re in, it’s never a perfect fit for all sports across the board.”