Boise State Gets Phone Call From the Big West Conference

Boise State president Bob Kustra got the phone call he was desperately hoping for yesterday. The call was from Big West commissioner Dennis Farrell about the possibility of Boise State joining the Big West Conference. It’s far from a done deal, but Farrell said the Big West is following up the call by sending the Broncos an assessment tool the conference hands out to any potential new members.

The move comes as a surprise after the league turned down Boise State’s request this past December. That attempt was prompted by the Broncos accepting an invite to the Big East for football-only and needing to find a home for its other sports programs. Boise State ended up back in the Western Athletic Conference, whose survival is now in serious jeopardy after being shredded by the latest round of conference expansion.

"We're looking at this from a broad landscape right now," Farrell told ESPN. But that is a significant change of heart from last month when Pacific decided to leave the Big West for the WCC, and the Big West was content to remain at 10 members. That was before Boise State and the WAC got into trouble and asked both the Big East Conference and San Diego State for help in placing their Olympic sports. SDSU is a school the BWC has sought as a member for a long time so any recommendation San Diego State Athletic Director Jim Sterk has acknowledged making is going to be listened to very carefully.

The Big West is basically a California-based bus league whose members are within a close geographical footprint, with the exception of Hawaii. There is no doubt that if Boise State is offered a chair at the table the cost issue is something that would have to be worked out. In order to get that chair Boise State will need 8 of 10 conference schools to approve their membership. Those schools are Cal State Fullerton, UC Santa Barbara, Long Beach State, Cal Poly, Cal State Northridge, UC Davis, UC Riverside, UC Irvine, San Diego State and Hawaii.

A huge question is how Hawaii will vote. It is no secret they were upset with Boise State leaving for the Big East when they made the jump to the MWC, and feel much the same as Boise State felt when BYU left the conference. Moreover, the MWC commissioner has not made a secret that he would like Boise State and San Diego to stay and get the MWC to a 12-team league. Hawaii could be the blocking vote to force Boise and SDSU back into the conference. For that reason alone Hawaii will certainly be getting a lot of pressure from the other MWC presidents urging them to vote no.

Farrell also said something else yesterday that should give the MWC pause. He said that if Boise State is added then the Big West Conference would probably expand to 12 members. That additional Big West member could be Denver, Seattle or Cal-State Bakersfield. But it could also be another member they have coveted and located within their footprint: Fresno State.

Speculating, it would not come as a surprise to hear that the Big West has been in direct contact with the Big East with the idea of reversing its December decision to consider Boise State for membership for a price: the Big West adds Fresno State as well, thus forcing the Big East to invite the Bulldogs as their 14th member. It would make sense for both conferences, but could that be a long shot scenario? Yeah, sure, maybe. But in the quickly shifting dynamics of conference expansion nothing should surprise you.

Right now the Big East is almost as vulnerable as Boise State. It desperately needs both Boise State and San Diego State to join the league in football for 2013, to help its image if nothing else. The conference can ill afford the perception of instability on the eve of media negotiations after the rash of recent defections of such teams as Pitt, Syracuse, and West Virginia. Even Louisville is looking to leave. Further, with college football moving away from an automatic qualification status for the BCS in two years, the Big East could be in danger of losing two more key, high profile members in Boise State and SDSU.

The Big West is the only one who really doesn’t need anything out of this and could basically be in control of the future of the Big East. It’s easy to speculate what is going on behind the scenes and Boise State will not comment. There is no timetable for a decision, but Boise State faces a July 1st deadline to withdraw from the Mountain West so they will move fast on the Big West paperwork---and working the phones behind the lines.

Like Farrell said after the Big West board of directors and chancellors meeting: "The ball is in Boise State's court at this point."
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