The centerpiece of the Sunday morning sports sections in Boise and San Diego this week offers interesting look at the current Mountain West Conference realignment - one looking back at the week's news and the other looking forward to what may be.
The San Diego Union-Tribune's Mark Zeigler has put together an exhaustive and compelling story for Sunday morning's edition entitled "SDSU's dilemma: Mountain West or Big East?"
The entire article runs 5 pages on the internet and covers pretty much all the considerations that the administrators of the San Diego St. Aztecs must consider before the MWC mandated deadline of Jan. 31.
Zeigler doesn't waste anytime laying it all out:
So now what? Stay in the Mountain West? Or go it alone into uncharted territory?
Neither choice is particularly enticing, at least compared to what could have been.
Understand that SDSU is a state institution that is largely funded by taxpayer dollars and that wants to play big-time NCAA Division I football. Now mix in a biting recession and some of the nation’s most stringent gender equity guidelines, meaning what limited financial resources are available can’t be poured into football and men’s basketball while ignoring the 16 other teams on campus.
In his well-written and completely considered article, Ziegler points out that the original decision for SDSU to follow the Boise St. Broncos to the Big East Conference was a "no-brainer" due to the sheer increase in money coming football - but also because of the drastic reduction of costs from all other sports, particularly basketball.
But events - starting with Notre Dame's decision to join the Atlantic Coast Conference in all sports but football followed by Rutgers' move to the Big 10 and followed by the most recent move, the so-called Catholic 7 bolting the Big East - have conspired to make it so that decision is being reconsidered.
Ziegler's analysis of the situation is spot-on and very objective, especially considering the SDSU administration (and even most fans ) negative responses to returning to the MWC.
Among the questions raised is this primary one:
SDSU must decide how badly it wants the Mountain West. But the Mountain West also must decide how badly it wants SDSU.
...At the end of the day, however, this is about money and marketing value, and SDSU might need the Mountain West as much as the Mountain West needs SDSU. The ambivalence about SDSU’s status from both sides is probably more rhetoric than reality, and Sterk and Thompson are said to be speaking daily.
In the end Ziegler seems to lean toward SDSU remaining in the Big East - though he never comes out and says that.
The final paragraph does clearly lay out the dilemma of modern college athletics.
Although his conclusion that the MWC risks becoming a league of one have (Boise St.) and a bunch of have-nots is a peculiar reading of the league's restructured TV deal.
In this writer's opinion, the TV deal doesn't simply reward not one school by design. it offers incentives for all teams to develop their programs into winning ones and develop a national brand as Boise St. has. And it rewards those effort monetarily.
Meanwhile, in the Idaho Statesman, Brian Murphy wraps up a week of stellar work chasing down the MWC realignment story with an interesting, insightful recap of the entire Boise-back-to-the-MWC saga in his story "How Boise State ended up staying in the Mountain West.
It's a pretty compelling read, starting with the reactions to closing the deal from the two main players - MWC commissioner Craig Thompson and Boise St. president Bob Kustra. When all was said and done, Thompson "Cracked a beer":
The next night, Boise State President Bob Kustra, who has been negotiating conference deals since 2010, switched his television from a college football bowl game to the Vienna Philharmonic New Year’s concert.
"Just as a protest for how many hours I’ve spent doing this," Kustra said last week.
From there the story backtracks to Kustra's initial decision to obligate the Broncos' athletics to move - football to the Big East, Olympic sports returning to Boise State's initial Division I home, the Big West Conference.
The turning point was two-fold - the Big East's defections and devaluation of TV rights and the MWC's successful renegotiation of its TV contract with the CBS Sports Network
When Thompson informed Boise State officials of the potential new deal, it grabbed their attention. The Broncos had already been considering their options, given the problems with the Big East.
"We all thought, ‘This is for real, these guys are serious," Kustra said. "On the other hand the Big East was still struggling to figure out how to get to the media deal. Without that, it’s pretty difficult to weigh things. You just look and you see not much on the one side and a very attractive offer on the other."
Armed with newfound options, Thompson met with Kustra at the MAACO Bowl Las Vegas on Dec. 22. The two spoke in a suite at Sam Boyd Stadium.
Murphy's yarn about the machinations that brought Boise State and the MWC to their current point is pretty fascinating and Muprhy tells the story well. With writing like this, don't be surprised if Murphy finds a national audience - much like the team he covers currently has.