On Saturday night, Boise State battled Colorado State in a football game that meant nothing.
Yes, Boise State is still battling for a Mountain West Conference crown. And yes, Colorado State is still fighting for a bowl berth. But ultimately, the game played on the CBS Sports Network in front of a half-empty stadium was meaningless on the national scale.
Boise State was so close to having it all. Instead, a short-sighted decision has left with nothing.
For a brief moment in time, the Big East appeared to have saved itself despite the forthcoming departures of Pittsburgh and Syracuse. Boise State and San Diego State had agreed to join as football-only members – you can insert your obligatory “Big East West” joke here. With Louisville and Rutgers still in the fold, burgeoning football powers Houston and UCF joining and former BCS participants Cincinnati and UConn in the fold, there was faint hope that the Big East would remain among the elite.
Rutgers soon bolted to the Big Ten. Louisville won the ACC “Golden Ticket” over UConn and Cincinnati. The newly-minted American Athletic Conference was left to deal with continued ESPN bias and an opportunity to possibly succeed if a million things go right.
When Rutgers and Louisville decided to join new conferences, Boise State and San Diego State put the kibosh on their plans to join the American for football while moving its basketball programs into the Big West.
For San Diego State, the decision was a no-brainer. The football program has rarely been relevant since Marshall Faulk tore up Jack Murphy Stadium two decades ago and its powerhouse basketball program would have likely been diminished by the move to a decidedly weaker conference.
On its face, for Boise State, the decision was a no-brainer as well. The Mountain West Conference bent over backwards for the Broncos, writing in special exemptions to give them better TV coverage and more money than the other teams in the conferences. It was a shocking concession for a conference to make, but one the Mountain West had to make to stay relevant.
The question, though, is why Boise State accepted it?
In 2010, Boise State was the defining story of the college football season. Beginning with its widely-watched, Labor Day night thrilling win over Virginia Tech through the heart-wrenching loss to Colin Kaepernick and Nevada in the wee hours of Black Friday, Boise State and Kellen Moore were seemingly a nightly fixture on ESPN.
The debate raged all year focusing on the Broncos – it was so all-encompassing that it obscured the season that TCU had until the Horned Frogs showed up in the Rose Bowl with a future NFL quarterback and won the damn game.
But TCU didn’t resonate. Boise State did. The 2007 Fiesta Bowl was still fresh in our minds. The Blue Turf made them memorable. The defeat of Virginia Tech delivered a narrative. The “plucky” team from Boise State provided a nice counter-balance to the Cam Newton saga unfolding in the South.
When Texas A&M made its intentions known that it wanted the SEC, I argued the Big 12 needed Boise State more than it needed A&M. No one listened.
While TCU and Utah – fellow BCS busters – got their “Golden Tickets” to the Big 12 and Pac-12 respectively, Boise State languished in purgatory. What would their future hold? The Big East, for a moment, seemed hold the answer. But it quickly vanished.
As we stand here in November 2013, we will remember how Boise State could’ve had it all.
The American Athletic Conference is many things and many of those things are not good. But its one huge advantage is the scope and scale of the conference. With teams dotting the entire Eastern half of the United States, it encompasses a lot of territory. It also encompasses much of the fertile recruiting grounds in the country in Texas, Florida, Ohio and the Memphis area. It will never be the SEC or even the ACC, but the AAC does have some in-roads.
Boise State, tucked away in a small-big-city far away from the media capitals of the world, has existed in an alternate plane where its yearly chase of a BCS bids made national headlines. In 2014, that all goes away. There will always be a “BCS buster” though that term will no longer apply. It’ll just be another team playing in another bowl game.
The focus starting in 2014 will solely be on the four-team college football playoff. The BCS buster discussion – the one that Boise State exploited to perfection – will fade away.
In short, no one will care about Boise State starting in 2014. Their national brand will eventually dissipate to nothing, overloaded on a buffet of regional games against squads like New Mexico, Utah State and Wyoming that will elicit nothing but yawns for 95% of the country.
Only if Boise State had the foresight to see past the short-term boost in economics, they would have seen what was waiting for them in the aptly-named American Athletic Conference.
They would have had road trips to Houston, Dallas, Orlando and Philadelphia. They would have furthered their national appeal. They would have introduced themselves, in person, to recruits nationwide who recognize the Boise State name. They would have found themselves consistently on ESPN – the new American contract has 90% of conference games on a nationally-televised ESPN platform, with the rest on CBS Sports Network.
Boise State would have found a more compelling hook – going undefeated against the AAC’s schedule provides a slim, if faint hope, of making the future’s college football playoff. If they do so against the Mountain West, there is almost no hope.
And therein lies the ultimate failure of Boise State’s leadership. As evidenced by Fresno State this year, an undefeated Mountain West Conference team will never, ever be considered Top 4 material.
Boise State could have played games across the United States. They would have been the featured team of a league that still has the resources and markets to potentially grow into a power league again.
The Mountain West will never, ever be a power league. This is not an insult, this is the truth.
The American likely won’t be either. Boise State essentially had to choose between two football leagues – one with regional status, one with national status.
They chose their region and a few extra bucks.
Their reward is irrelevance.
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