The announcement many college football observers expected Monday came late Friday morning — Boise State is joining the Mountain West Conference.
Now the question is what other announcements, if any, the MWC will make as the landscape of intercollegiate athletics begins to shift.
Just four days after the league’s board of directors concluded two days of meetings in Jackson, Wyo., and announced it would not immediately expand the conference, it reconvened via teleconference Friday morning and voted unanimously to extend an invitation to Boise State to become the league’s 10th member, effective July 1, 2011.
“We continued our discussion that we’d had in Jackson Hole, where we didn’t come to any conclusion,” said Lt. Gen. Michael C. Gould, the superintendent of the Air Force Academy — one of the board members, along with the presidents of the league’s other institutions. “But we decided that looking at the landscape across the NCAA that it would be to our advantage and also Boise’s to ask them to join the conference.”
The landscape began to change Thursday when Colorado bolted the Big 12 for the Pac-10. On Friday, Nebraska officially announced its intention of leaving the Big 12 for the Big Ten, which accepted Nebraska later Friday — something that had been reported as imminent.
Colorado’s departure was the catalyst for the MWC’s invitation to Boise.
Going forward, Thompson said the league would consider standing pat with 10 teams or adding two or even six more. He said it was fair to say the MWC would be keeping a close eye on what happens to the Big 12.
That’s because the two scenarios that the Big 12 appears to be facing both have implications for the MWC. One that has been much reported is that five more Big 12 teams — Texas, Texas A&M, Texas Tech, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State — would join the Pac-10 and make it a 16-team megaconference.
Under that scenario, the Big 12 would be all but decimated, and the MWC could go after what’s left — including Kansas and Kansas State.
Asked on a conference call Friday if he’d been in contact with those two schools, MWC commissioner Craig Thompson said, “I’ll leave it at this — I’ve had conversations last night and this morning and continuing up until this phone call with several institutions, and I know that both board members and athletic directors are reaching out similarly to get a sense of where institutions’ minds are these days.”
The other scenario has Texas deciding to stay in the Big 12 and the league staying alive and raiding another conference — possibly the MWC — for teams. Thompson acknowledged that the potential of other leagues plucking schools from the MWC was part of the reason it finally added Boise State after considering it for several years.
“I’m not aware that any (MWC schools) are (looking to leave the MWC), but I would not be shocked if some were going to be approached by other people,” Thompson said.
“As you look at it, it becomes pretty clear that there will be some significant realignments, and we just felt it was to our conference’s advantage to expand to 10 teams,” Gould said. “And whether or not we maybe lose some of our other members to other conferences, we just don’t know. But we feel our position is strengthened by having Boise on board.”
Football is driving conference realignment, and Boise State gives the MWC a powerful program — one that compiled the best winning percentage in all of major college football from 2000 through 2009. The Broncos have won two BCS bowl games, finished last season 14-0 and ranked No. 4 in the country and should greatly strengthen the MWC’s quest to become an automatic-qualifying BCS conference — what Thompson called his “No. 1 goal.”
Thompson said the board of directors has discussed some other Western Athletic Conference schools but “at this time it’s not envisioned that” any would be approached.
In weighing options for expansion, Thompson said the MWC would like to acquire television markets to the east and “institutions in states that are contiguous to current Mountain West states.” Those descriptions would seem to point to Kansas and Kansas State. But Thompson said the league is “not anywhere close to” offering an invitation to another school.