Initially, there was an introduction. The Boise State football team was thrilled to be a member of the Mountain West Conference in 2011, when Broncos coach Chris Petersen and player representatives appeared at the conference kickoff event.
Then came the awkward breakup.
Boise State was bound for the Big East, a lame duck playing its final season in a fractured conference that was losing its best teams, television network and all hope of earning an automatic qualifying status.
But as Boise State was welcomed back to the Mountain West media days Monday and Tuesday inside the Cosmopolitan Hotel on the Vegas strip it was as if the Broncos had never parted ways in favor of the Big East.
There were no ill feelings toward the conference’s premier program.
But there easily could have been.
Boise State’s deal to return to the league included almost preferential treatment. The Broncos will have all but one home game broadcasted on one of ESPN’s networks — ESPN, ESPN2 or web-based ESPN3. They’ll have a minimum of three home games televised nationally on ESPN, ESPN2 or ABC. No other team in the conference has such a deal.
“They established a product that’s very desirable in the marketplace,” Fresno State coach Tim DeRuyter said. “And to me, more power to them.
“It was the same way when I was in the Big 12. People want to watch Texas and Texas A&M and Oklahoma, because of the tradition and what they’ve done. You’re going to earn that right, and you have to give them credit, they’ve earned that right, so I don’t begrudge them for it.”
San Diego State followed Boise State’s path to the Big East and back to the Mountain West, but it will not receive a similar deal.
Still, Aztecs coach Rocky Long wasn’t about to throw up his hands and question fairness.
“I think they did a nice job getting that done,” he said. “The Big 12 has Texas and they have their own network. So, if a team is able to negotiate those sort of things, good for them.”
Perhaps part of the reason conference coaches are not criticizing Boise State’s access on ESPN is because their teams will get some TV time, too.
All Mountain West teams will receive $300,000 for each nationally televised game, plus $200,000 if that game is played on a Saturday. The conference will have 16 games televised on an ESPN channel this season.
Four Mountain West home games were aired an ESPN channel in 2012, the first time the network had televised one of its home games since 2005.
Mountain West games were televised on its all-sports conference network from 2006 to 2012.
DeRuyter said having games on ESPN will be big for recruiting and for the conference, overall.
“Obviously ESPN is the driver for college athletics, especially college football,” he said. “Most of our recruits are watching SportsCenter every single day, and if you’re not on their network, they’re probably not (publicizing) you a whole lot.
“To be able to get on there, it’s a little bit of a double-edged sword. I love Friday night football games for the exposure. I don’t like it when you’re taking away from high school. The fact that we’re playing some Friday games is a little concerning, but you can’t turn down the exposure.”
“I think all of our players like being on TV,” he said. “I think, if it’s a national game, there’s a lot of people that watch ESPN. I think it’s good for us, I think it’s good for the league, I think it’s good for everybody that (ESPN’s) back.”
In addition to ESPN, Mountain West games will be on CBS Sports Network and ROOT Sports. All but seven Mountain West football games will be televised this season, Thompson said.
But ESPN is the wild card, and Boise State’s presence in the Mountain West was big for all.
“There’s no question that they were important for us to get that deal,” Thompson said.
BIG EAST DANCE PAYS OFF FOR SDSU
Long is happy that the Aztecs remain in the Mountain West after committing to join Boise State in the Big East this year.
In the short time San Diego State was bound for the far-away conference, the Aztecs landed 11 commitments from 11 different states, Long said.
“Because of the Big East notion, we got a lot of interest from places that we never got interest before,” he said.
The players stayed with their commitments despite the fact that San Diego State never did play a game in the Big East, nor will.
“What it’s done is opened up some recruiting areas for us,” Long said. “In the long run, it was a good thing.”
WILL PLAYOFFS OPEN MWC ACCESS?
Thompson believes next year’s transition to a college football playoff will make it easier for the top team from his league to play in one of the games that would be equivalent to current BCS bowls or even the four-team College Football Playoff.
“We have a much better opportunity to go to a higher-ranked bowl, if you will, then we have in the past,” Thompson said.