[Editors note: This is the first piece by Matthew K who is a new writer to the site and will add to our Fresno State coverage. Give him a follow on Twitter @MattyBear333]
A few days ago, rumors surfaced that Fresno State athletic director Thomas Boeh was a leading candidate for the same position at Rutgers University. The Scarlet Knights are set to leave the imploding Big East for the Big Ten beginning in 2014, and while the Bulldogs have secured a reasonable position in the Mountain West as a result of the conference realignment transactions, it is easy to see why there is a lot of incentive to leave.
Will it happen? Given the general nature of college athletics, I believe that it will, but there's a lot of moving parts in the Valley and New Jersey that makes the change attractive.
In the 2012-13 annual budget, operational costs as Fresno State were forecast to break even. Much of the decrease from the previous year's budget was tied to lagging football ticket sales, a problem that has dogged the university for some time now, though the budget also noted a similar struggle in the men's basketball program.
The gridiron pays the bills in the college sports realm, of course, but rebounding from a 4-8 season in 2011 to 9-4 in 2012 resulted in only a modest attendance bump, from 29,298 to 30,915 over six home dates in each year. Financial reports that examine the 2012-13 year have not been released yet, but a comprehensive USA Today report identified just under $1.7 million decrease in ticket sales in 2012 compared to 2011.
Fresno Bee reporter Robert Kuwada noted that Fresno State's revenues would rank eighth in the new-look Mountain West and its school funding would rank ninth. It is hard to imagine much optimism, given the state's murky financial future.
Contrast this with Rutgers, who recently poured $100 million into renovating and expanding its football stadium and boasts a $52 million athletics budget that is twice as large as what Fresno State manages. A Forbes report that followed the recent resignation of Rutgers' former athletic director Tim Pernetti noted that television revenues are expected to bring the school $40 million by 2017. In essence, New Brunswick can offer some significant financial muscle that Fresno cannot match.
It can also be argued that Boeh has been in this position before. Make of it what you will, but there are similarities in this and his arrival from Ohio University in 2005. On the whole, imagine that the Western Athletic Conference (with which the university was affiliated in '05) was a more a desirable destination than the Mid-American Conference at that point in time, just as the Mountain West is perceived as we approach the 2013 school year.
The Big Ten, though, operates on a different level and Rutgers has pushed a significant amount of chips to the center of the table, to ensure it is a part of the action. It is also worth noting that Boeh's profile on the Fresno State athletics website lists "a variety of roles with the Big Ten Television Network" among his previous involvements, as well as stops at Northwestern and Illinois.
There are also some nebulous circumstances that could affect a decision, as well. Fresno State's president, Dr. John Welty, is set to retire at the conclusion of the school year. The California State University Board of Trustees has utilized a secretive process that is expected to announce Welty's successor when it meets in Long Beach May 21 and 22, but the secrecy has proven contentious locally.
It is realistic to suggest that the new university president might de-emphasize athletics to some degree, since the CSU system has been beleaguered by budget cuts in recent years and the aforementioned USA Today report also illustrates a significant increase in student fees to foot the current bill.
Welty is also heavily invested in the Ed O'Bannon lawsuit that threatens to up-end the NCAA's financial structure, as he is a part of the organization's board of directors, and there is the potential for fallout if Boeh remains at Fresno State.
Unlike Big Ten commissioner Jim Delaney, who famously postulated that his conference would be reduced to Division III rubble if the NCAA lost the O'Bannon case, Welty has stronger legs to stand on when he says essentially the same thing about the Bulldogs.
Fresno Bee writer Marek Warszawski touched on this topic back on March 25:
In a seven-page declaration filed March 14 in U.S. District Court of Northern California, Welty stated that Fresno State "absolutely depends" on those TV revenues (about $2.4 million annually) to fund its athletic program. And if legally forced to share that money with football and men's basketball players, he implied the university may have to drop football.
"It is a possibility that Fresno State ... might cease playing Division I football or Football Bowl Subdivision sports entirely," Welty stated. "It may very well be the case that Fresno State would eliminate football rather than be forced to eliminate the balance of its athletics programs to keep football."
There's no way of knowing with any certainty what Fresno State's television revenue will look like in 2017, as we can with Rutgers, but there is a significant difference between $2.4 million and $40 million. Is it worth it to stay if this possibility is in play?
Considering the strides that Fresno State athletics have made during Boeh's tenure, it will be a shame if he departs. He inherited one of the strongest mid-major football programs in the nation; though I disagreed with the decision to let Pat Hill leave following the 2011 season, his hiring of Tim DeRuyter looks very smart following a 2012 campaign that delivered a share of the Mountain West title.
The men's basketball program has been lackluster and has work to do to make up ground on the five MWC squads that made the 2013 tourney, but women's basketball emerged from the Stacey Johnson-Klein controversy to become perennial tourney figures under former coach Adrian Wiggins and current coach Raegan Pebley.
Boeh also stuck with baseball manager Mike Batesole and was rewarded with an unlikely College World Series title in 2008. Off the field, the school's APR has improved significantly under his watch, the most noteworthy of which belongs to men's basketball, which was the worst the nation when he arrived in 2005.
The greatest irony, if my suspicions are eventually confirmed, is that Rutgers will travel to Bulldog Stadium to open Fresno's 2013 football slate on August 29. Will Thomas Boeh support the green "V" or the scarlet "R" that day? Only one man knows the answer to that question, but I think we'll all know soon enough.