Boise St San Diego St Basketball

Boise State head coach Leon Rice during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against San Diego State, Saturday, Jan. 11, 2020, in San Diego.

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BOISE — Lost revenue due to the COVID-19 pandemic could impact Boise State’s men’s basketball schedule for next season.

Boise State coach Leon Rice confirmed this week that the Broncos are looking into the possibility of playing an extra road game in an effort to help bring in additional money for the athletic department.

“I think this situation, budgets are really going to be affected and it’s going to change some scheduling things,” Rice said. “It may end up putting us on the road a little more than we want to be.”

The decision to trade a home game for an away game would likely be savings of more than $120,000 for the athletic department.

Boise State typically pays a lower Division I team $80,000 to $90,000 to come play a game in Boise. The Broncos would receive a similar amount, if not more, for going to play a Power 5 team on the road.

Rice’s contract calls for the first $40,000 of an away game “guarantee” to go straight to the athletic department. The remaining money, minus expenses for the game, can be given to Rice and his assistants or go towards the basketball budget. In this case Rice could offer the extra money to the athletic department.

That means the swing would be at least $120,000 in additional money for the athletic department — and likely more — simply by the Broncos collecting a check for a road game instead of paying a team to play a game in Boise.

“We don’t have a lot of fat in our budget and that’s one of the things I’m going to try to explore doing,” Rice said. “That might be a way we can really save the department some money and maybe hopefully get an opportunity to go out and raise some that way.”

Some lower-level Division I teams help fund their entire athletic department’s budget by playing several road “guarantee” games a season despite having little chance of winning them.

The Broncos have only played a handful of road guarantee games during Rice’s 10 years at Boise State, and most were early in his tenure. Boise State has collected checks for playing at Kentucky, Michigan State, Wisconsin, Arizona and Oregon.

Of course it takes two to tango. Boise State already has two East Coast trips planned next season and just six games available to schedule, which could make fitting in a road game against a Power 5 school tricky. Boise State also figures to have a good team next year, which might make some schools unwilling to play them.

The Broncos haven’t been able to land a ton of attractive home games in years past. They’ve instead been forced to pay lower level teams large sums of money to come to Boise, and often times the games are not appealing to fans anyway. The Broncos paid Idaho State $90,000 in 2018 and had to pay UNC-Wilmington and Alabama State similar amounts last year.

Would Boise State fans rather watch a home game against UNC-Wilmington, or a road game against an Arizona or Oregon? That’s what could end up happening for the Broncos.

The one downside with such a swap would be taking a way a home game, which likely won’t sit well with some fans that already have complained the home non-conference schedule has been subpar in recent years. But in these challenging economic times, the Broncos might not have a choice.

“It’s unfortunate because there’s a cause and effect with scheduling and every game you play on the road is one less game you get at home for your fans,” Rice said. “But with that being said, we might have to play a guarantee game on the road to help out with our department’s situation.”

Rice said they’ve been “really aggressive” with the schedule as a whole because of how good they expect to be. The Broncos are in the Orlando Invitational over Thanksgiving as part of an eight-team field that includes likely preseason No. 1 Gonzaga, Michigan State, Auburn, Xavier, Saint Louis, Belmont and Sienna.

The Broncos have road games scheduled at BYU and CSUN after both played in Boise last season, and they’ll visit Rhode Island as part of the Mountain West-Atlantic 10 Challenge.

The one known home game is against Tulsa, which tied for the American Athletic Conference title last season. It’s the return game of a home-and-home series that started last year at Tulsa.

Boise State has six games still to schedule, one of which could potentially be the guarantee game. Most of the others would figure to be at home.

The situation could be seen as a win-win. The Broncos get the financial advantage of playing on the road, and also get an opportunity to get a quality road win that would look good come NCAA Tournament time.

“Leon has been great in terms of saying ‘hey, we’ll try to (pay less teams to come to Boise), and on top of that, we’ll go play a guarantee game and see if we can put a lot of that money back into the athletic department to help out with some of the short falls,” Boise State athletic director Curt Apsey said Thursday on KTIK radio. “He’s been one of the many coaches stepping up saying ‘we’re in this together. How can we help out?’”

Rice said the Broncos are “in talks with a lot of high-level teams”, but said no agreements were in place. The Broncos still have six games left to schedule, counting the potential road guarantee game.

The COVID-19 pandemic has stressed businesses around the country financially, and Boise State and the athletic department are no different. Some schools including Washington State and Iowa State have temporarily cut salaries of coaches to help make up for lost revenue from things such as donations, ticket sales and NCAA Tournament payouts.

Rice has potentially found another way to help out.

“Its going to be tough going for a while,” Apsey said. “And Leon saying that and being willing to do that is certainly appreciated by me and the department.”

B.J Rains has covered Boise State athletics for the Idaho Press since 2013. He is an Associated Press Top 25 men's basketball poll voter, and also contributes to KBOI-TV as a Boise State insider.

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