BOISE — Even though Boise State had wanted to leave the Western Athletic Conference for a few years, they didn’t burn any bridges on the way out.
After leaving the WAC officially over the summer for the Mountain West after calling it their home since 2001, the Broncos are coming back July 1, 2013 — in all sports other than football and wrestling.
“The decision to have Boise State back under the WAC umbrella is one that is looking toward the future and provide greater stability, greater value and greater structure,” said WAC commissioner Karl Benson, who praised Boise State’s handling of its exit and fulfilling all contractual obligations.
Though Boise State interim athletic director Curt Apsey admitted to discussions with the Big West Conference, the WAC seemed to be the most logical destination. The conference still has stalwarts Utah State, Louisiana Tech, New Mexico State, San Jose State, and will reignite a rivalry with Idaho. Air Force’s commitment to remain in the Mountain West and the MWC-Conference USA merger could stifle any raiding of the WAC.
“That’s the way it is now in college athletics,” Boise State men’s basketball coach Leon Rice said. “Even the Mountain West we joined isn’t the same. There’s no BYU, no Utah. Who knows where it goes in three years? All we can do is focus on our program and making it better.”
Benson said he’d be open to adding San Diego State, which joined the Big East in football along with Boise State, and Air Force, should it reconsider.
When Boise State returns to the WAC, it will have added new members in Texas State, Texas-San Antonio, Texas-Arlington, Denver and Seattle, moves made in part after Boise State, Hawaii, Fresno State and Nevada all announced their intent to leave in the last 18 months.
Even though many Broncos were recruited with the opportunity to play in the Mountain West, it wasn’t the deciding factor for most.
“All of us came here to play for this coaching staff, to play with these guys — we’re just looking forward to winning games and having success wherever we go,” Boise State sophomore forward Ryan Watkins said.
The move likely will have the biggest impact on Rice’s team. The Broncos are currently in a conference rated No. 4 in the RPI last year — the WAC was 13th.
“I don’t think your conference affiliation matters that much,” Rice said. “Yes, it will be nice to at least play in the Mountain West for two years, but look where I came from (Gonzaga). Look at what the football team here has done. If you can build a winning program, that other stuff isn’t a big deal.”
One possible enticement, however, is the possibility of playing as many as four games per year in basketball against Big East teams. General counsel Kevin Satterlee said Wednesday that Boise State could host two teams and travel to play two, though that is not mandatory.
The conference has basketball heavyweights in Connecticut, Georgetown, Louisville and Villanova — it sent a record 11 teams to the NCAA tournament in the spring.
“We are excited about the prospect of bringing some basketball teams in here that Boiseans don’t normally get to see,” Boise State president Bob Kustra said.