There are three nonconference opponents that reliably sell tickets at Boise State across sports.
Anyone from the Pac-12. BYU. And Idaho.
The Broncos can’t schedule the first as much as they’d like. They play BYU every year in football. And they ridiculously refuse to play the rival Idaho Vandals in marquee events.
That last practice needs to stop.
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The Vandals men’s and women’s basketball teams will play a doubleheader Thursday night at CenturyLink Arena in Downtown Boise in their quest to connect with the school’s largest alumni base. In fact, one in eight Idaho alums lives in Ada County.
Yet the Vandals men’s basketball team hasn’t been able to play the Broncos since a 2014 game at CenturyLink, the women since a trio of WAC games in 2011 and the football team since 2010 in Moscow.
Football has some complications, but Idaho Athletic Director Rob Spear earlier this year called the lack of basketball games between the schools “inexcusable.”
And he’s right.
“It’s good for the state, good for the student bodies,” Spear said Wednesday. “It creates energy and excitement around the game. I just wish we could find a way to play it.”
Boise State President Bob Kustra, who didn’t enjoy some of the vitriol that comes with these rivalry games, has made his opinions about the Vandals clear — and that has spilled into scheduling. The Broncos haven’t played a game in Moscow in the top three spectator sports — football, men’s basketball and women’s basketball — since leaving the WAC for the Mountain West in 2011.
The refusal to go there reeks of snobbery — the same kind of attitude that irks Boise State when dealing with Pac-12 schools, many of whom have little interest in playing games in Boise. Even some Boise State fans support the idea of not playing the Vandals, throwing away a decades-long tradition and leaving the Broncos without a true rival.
Spear would prefer to play the Broncos with alternating home sites for basketball. The Vandals played the Broncos in men’s basketball at neutral sites in the Treasure Valley from 2011 to 2014, but that series died. Spear was willing to play two football games in Boise for one in Moscow, but that never happened.
“In a perfect world, you’d like to have a true rivalry and you’d play home and away,” Spear said.
Boise State basketball coaches Leon Rice (men) and Gordy Presnell (women) say they’ve discussed scheduling the Vandals but it hasn’t worked out. The Broncos women commonly play a preseason scrimmage with the Vandals in Pendleton, Ore., and Presnell’s staff is close to the Vandals’ staff.
“Maybe down the road we will play them again,” Presnell said.
That’s a common refrain at Boise State when the subject of playing Idaho comes up — maybe in the future. And for good reason.
Kustra retires June 30. Starting July 1, the Broncos could be more receptive to playing the Vandals.
“It’s just something we’ve chosen at this point,” Boise State Athletic Director Curt Apsey said. “It’s been a part of our plan and whether or not that changes going forward I’m not sure.”
Boise State, which needs to increase attendance in all sports, has played men’s games against Eastern Oregon, Southern Utah and Sacramento State this season. Not only would Idaho — the Big Sky favorite — sell more tickets, but the Vandals are a better opponent. The Boise State women are playing Saint Francis of Pennsylvania on Thursday night, when they could be playing a solid Idaho team.
Here’s what I’d like to see: Play a men’s and women’s doubleheader every year, rotating between Taco Bell Arena in Boise and Cowan Spectrum in Moscow. That would bring each team to the other’s campus and create one of the best atmospheres of the season.
Football is trickier. With Idaho moving down to the Football Championship Subdivision in 2018, there’s no reason for Boise State to play in Moscow again. But if the Broncos are going to play an FCS team, as they do every few years, Idaho should be the first call. The Broncos have a game scheduled with FCS Portland State in 2019 but Idaho didn’t have an opening then. The Broncos don’t have another opening for a home game until 2025, so a new Governor’s Trophy matchup isn’t imminent. But it would be fun to put the teams together once every four years — about as often as the Broncos play an FCS team — so each class experiences the rivalry once.
An Idaho game would be far better attended than a matchup with Portland State or any other FCS school, and it would keep the $400,000 or so appearance fee in the state.
Consider this: In 2009, when Boise State played Oregon and Idaho at home in football, the difference in attendance was just 141 fans. The next-highest attendance that year was for Colin Kaepernick-led Nevada, and that game drew 1,344 fewer fans than the Idaho game.
More to the current point: Idaho’s last men’s basketball appearance at Taco Bell Arena attracted 12,193 fans — still the largest home crowd for the Broncos since 1993.
Idaho sells tickets in Boise. Matchups with Boise State create passionate environments. And this rivalry is a major part of the history of college athletics in our state.
Just play the games, already.
Chadd Cripe is the Idaho Statesman sports editor. Contact him at ccripe@ idahostatesman.com, 208-377-6398 or @chaddcripe on Twitter.
Vandal Holiday Hoops Classic
What: Idaho men’s basketball vs. UC Irvine, Idaho women’s basketball vs. Eastern Oregon
When: 5 p.m. Thursday. Men’s game starts at 7:30 p.m.
Where: CenturyLink Arena
Tickets: $15 and up, through the CenturyLink Arena box office (208-331-TIXS)