Boise State and the Mountain West announced Monday they had come to an agreement to keep the Broncos playing in the league they have been a part of the past two seasons.
"Without question, conference affiliation has been an odyssey for Boise State, with all the unexpected turns and changes that term suggests," Boise State University President Robert Kustra said in statement. "The benefits of geographic footprint, revenue, and national exposure have to be balanced against the changing circumstances of conference realignment. I am confident that our Mountain West membership is the very best decision for Boise State University, our student-athletes and our incredible fan base."
Boise State, which left the Western Athletic Conference for the Mountain West after the 2010 season, is still on the hook to pay a $5 million exit fee to the Big East, though the school says there are "provisions" which could make it less. Mountain West Commissioner Craig Thompson said the conference will help Boise State pay its exit fee.
"We are disappointed that Boise State has decided not to join the Big East Conference," commissioner Mike Aresco said. "The conference is comprised of a group of superb institutions with outstanding athletic programs. We look forward to a dynamic future with our new alignment beginning in 2013."
The Broncos were scheduled to join the Big East next year for football only. Boise State's other sports were going to compete in the Big West. But more recent defections from the Big East made Boise State reconsider. And the Broncos were able to cut a sweet deal with the Mountain West that could allow Boise State to cash-in on its popular and perennially powerful football program.
"As I've stated many times, I have had the utmost trust that the university would make the right decision in what is best for Bronco football and all our sports at Boise State," football coach Chris Petersen said in the statement. "This innovative proposal to get football the maximum exposure on national television will be a tremendous boost to our program as we continue to grow the Bronco brand."
The Mountain West recently restructured its television deal with CBS Sports Network to allow the conference to sell games to other national networks. The deal, which runs through the 2015-16 season, will net a $300,000 bonus for schools that appear on ESPN, ESPN2, NBC, CBS or Fox, with an additional bonus of $200,000 for a Saturday game.
Under its new agreement with the Mountain West, Boise State home football games will not be part of the current or future Mountain West television rights contracts, Kustra said. The school's home games will be sold separately by the conference and the university and revenue will be distributed among league members. But Boise State can make extra money by being on national television more often than its conference mates.
Kustra also said in his statement the Mountain West has agreed to a "system whereby any member whose football performance results in payments from the BCS to the conference will share directly in those revenues on a 50/50 basis."
The school said the conference also agreed not to impose uniform restrictions on Boise State. So the Broncos can go back to wearing blue while playing on its blue-turf home field. The Mountain West had prohibited those uniforms because opposing coaches complained that it gave the Broncos an unfair advantage.
For the Big East, Boise State's reversal is another huge blow, and yet another one could be coming.
Thompson said his conference has had no formal talks with San Diego State, but members of the conference have reached out to SDSU informally and there is interest in having the Aztecs back if an agreement can be worked out. San Diego State was also set to join the Big East as a football-only member.
"We have been monitoring the ongoing changes in conference realignment and are aware of today's announcement," San Diego State athletic director Jim Sterk said in a release. "Today's news represents a significant change in conference alignment. We will continue to evaluate the situation and make decisions based on the best interest of the San Diego State athletic department and the university overall."
San Diego State had been saying it was committed to the Big East, but now it has no West Coast partner.
"I think it's just a matter of timing and certainly the stage and development of (San Diego State's) interest," Thompson said during a conference call. "The last 15 to 20 days we've renegotiated our TV deal and worked out an agreement with Boise State. We're not looking for things to do here."
Boise State will give the Mountain West 11 members next season, along with Fresno State, Nevada, New Mexico, San Jose State, Utah State, Colorado State, Air Force, Wyoming, UNLV and Hawaii for football-only. Thompson said the Mountain West has also had discussions with what he called other western schools about joining. If the conference gets to at least 12 members, it likely will hold a football championship game.
That was the Big East's plan for next season. To have 12 teams in a coast-to-coast conference and hold a championship game. Now everything seems uncertain.
The Boise State news comes just a couple weeks after seven non-football members announced they would break away from the rest of the Big East to form a basketball-focused league.
Rutgers announced recently it will leave for the Big Ten, and Louisville is planning to depart for the Atlantic Coast Conference. Both are scheduled to compete in the Big East through at least 2013.
Those departures put the Big East's television contract negotiations on hold and created the kind of instability Boise State was trying to avoid.
Central Florida, Memphis, SMU and Houston are still scheduled to leave Conference USA and join the Big East in 2013. Current Big East members Connecticut, Cincinnati and South Florida are also set to play in the conference next season and beyond, along with Temple, which just rejoined this season.
Tulane is set to join in the Big East in all sports in 2014 and East Carolina for football only in 2014. Navy has announced it will join the Big East for football only in 2015.