In 2011, Boise State will be leaving the Western Athletic Conference.
Is that a good thing for New Mexico State?
I don’t so.
In the conference realignment madness that has taken place in college athletics this offseason, football is the engine that drives the car. It’s the money maker, and BSU believes it had a better chance of achieving its BCS Bowl Championship dreams – as well as making a better profit – in a more prestigious mid-major conference, the Mountain West.
Do I agree with the move? From Boise State’s perspective, I can’t find fault. The Broncos’ football program did great things in the WAC and, in turn, for the league. Case in point: Conference championships in seven of the last eight years and Fiesta Bowl titles in 2007 and 201; Since the Broncos joined the WAC in 2002, the team is an astounding 62-2 in conference play.
Really, with numbers like that, what else is there to prove if you’re BSU? They’re a cut above the rest of the conference, and a new challenge would seem to be in their best interest at this point.
But it does hurt the other teams in the conference – from Fresno State to Nevada, to New Mexico State to San Jose State.
Lets take a look at how Boise State’s defection will effect the landscape of the WAC.
The Broncos brought money to everyone: From Boise State’s Fiesta Bowl bid last year, NMSU received $430,000 from the NCAA. That’s what happens when a conference member makes it to a BCS bowl game. Every school gets a piece of the pie and, during a recession where mid-major programs are trying to scratch together dollars and cents, that money goes a long way.
ESPN just signed a new television deal with the WAC for the upcoming 2010 season. The sports network didn’t do it for the Dec. 4 showdown between Utah State and Idaho. No, they inked the deal because of Boise State.
Six of ESPN/ABC’s WAC telecasts this year feature the Broncos, giving not just Boise State, but all of their WAC counterparts, the exposure mid-major programs so desperately crave. Louisiana Tech, Idaho, Fresno State and Nevada all face the Broncos on ESPN2 this year, televised games that likely wouldn’t be there for those programs if the BSU wasn’t a national powerhouse.
The notoriety helps on a recruiting front: Simply by joining the WAC over five years ago, the Aggies have been able to market and brand the league to prospective student athletes. Playing in the WAC is more appealing for a football player than, say, the Sun Belt or the Big West.
Why? A big reason is because such athletes have seen the Broncos slay goliath in the Fiesta Bowl two of the last four years – beating Oklahoma in 2007 and TCU last year. They’ve seen BSU playing for undefeated seasons on the national stage, seen them battle conference foes on the famed Blue Turf at Bronco Stadium.
Speaking of Bronco Stadium, the league will now lose one of its top football venues. The Broncos were one of three WAC teams to average over 30,000 fans per game last year – coming in at 32,782. Hawaii (36,376) and Fresno State (33,578) were the other schools to hit the mark, but Boise State’s full house every game – even with the high attendance marks, Hawaii and Fresno were below a 90 percent capacity average - made it the best college football atmosphere in the conference.
The Broncos set the standard at the top: Since the Aggies joined the WAC in 2005, the conference has traditionally been four-to-five teams deep.
Programs such as Fresno State and Nevada have been solid second fiddles to BSU’s dominance and San Jose State, Hawaii, Louisiana Tech and even Idaho last year have put together respectable campaigns to give the conference a nice mix at the top of the league standings.
Through it all, the Broncos have been the premier team for close to a decade. It gave the WAC depth and a strong tier of teams on different levels of college football’s totem pole.
It would seem that Fresno State will take over as the team to beat in the conference, simply because the Bulldogs have tradition and winning expectations in place. Nevada will be a contender as well and NMSU, like every team in the conference, will have a better shot at a league title with the block’s biggest bully now moving away.
But still, Boise State was the unquestioned leader, one that every team lined up behind and strived to be.
What can be done?: The WAC still has a nice one-two punch at the top of the standings with Fresno State and Nevada as legitimate conference contenders.
Other teams will need to step up behind those programs and give the league a solid core from top to bottom.
There’s been talk of Louisiana Tech leaving as well, which would be a blow. The Bulldogs have been a solid team in the conference the past three years and have a nice supply of talent. They can be a top-five team consistently if they stick around for the long haul.
Hawaii has gotten progressively worse with the loss of head coach June Jones. It would be nice if the Warriors got back into the league’s upper echelon, something the program is capable of – three years ago Hawaii made an appearance in the Sugar Bowl, which resulted in another nice payday for the league’s member schools.
Idaho was a surprise team in the WAC in 2009, winning the Humanitarian Bowl and finishing with an 8-5 overall record. It would be nice if the Vandals proved that wasn’t a fluke and had a strong 2010 to back it up. That would give them a true foundation when BSU departs the following season.
Utah State and NMSU are hopeful that improvements are in order in their second seasons under new head coaches. San Jose State was abysmal last year, but added a new head coach this offseason in Mike MacIntyre.
If two of these three teams approach the .500 mark in conference play in the next 2-3 years, if Idaho continues to move forward and if Hawaii can regain its prestige, the conference will remain a solid mid-major league with rising programs.
A lot of ifs.