Bronco Beat

Boise State football and the Big 12: Would the Broncos fit?

Boise State running back Jeremy McNichols celebrates with tight end Holden Huff in last season’s regular season finale at San Jose State.
Boise State running back Jeremy McNichols celebrates with tight end Holden Huff in last season’s regular season finale at San Jose State.

So, you’re telling me there’s a chance?

In the never-ending world of college football realignment, Boise State’s hopes to find a spot in one of the sport’s big-money conferences has mostly seemed like a pipe dream.

However, Tuesday’s news that the Big 12 will explore expanding beyond its current 10 members, including the possibility of football-only additions, put the Broncos in the discussion.

“We’re very happy with where we’re at. We’re always open to considering and evaluating opportunities that come before us,” Boise State Athletic Director Curt Apsey said Thursday on KTIK 93.1 FM.

Boise State is still seen as a long shot. Schools like BYU, Cincinnati, Houston, Connecticut, Memphis, Central Florida and South Florida are more likely candidates. None is a lock. Each has its own built-in pros and cons. Two or four teams could be added, and a decision could come soon after the season starts.

Big 12 Chairman David Boren said the conference will look at five criteria: strength of athletic program, fan base, media market, academic standards and reputation.

STRENGTH OF ATHLETIC PROGRAM

Based solely on on-field football production, Boise State would be an easy pick. The Broncos have at least 10 wins in 13 of the past 17 seasons and have gone 12-5 against Power Five schools since 2006. Boise State has found some success in its other sports, finishing 70th in the Learfield Cup standings, which tallies results from all sports — but behind all Big 12 schools. Also, its budget of approximately $46 million was $20 million less than the Big 12’s smallest budget, Iowa State. That, of course, would change with the influx of Big 12 media money. Should Boise State get an invitation, in all likelihood, its other sports would need to find a new home outside the Mountain West.

FAN BASE

Boise State averaged 33,612 fans per game at Albertsons Stadium last season, or 92.4 percent of capacity (36,387). Adding to the stadium has been a common question from fans, but until sellouts happen more regularly, that’s unlikely. TCU’s Amon Carter Stadium (45,000) is the smallest Big 12 venue. However, the Broncos’ brand is well-known, fans travel well to road games and fans in far-flung places have routinely seen them play on ESPN. It’s a loyal, but still fairly small, fan base.

MEDIA MARKET

We all know Boise is a great place to live, but the fact is we are remote. Last fall, Nielsen ranked Boise the 107th-largest media market in the nation. Boise State is a draw on television, but the games don’t move the needle in terms of total viewers with a smaller home market. The conference wouldn’t mind a far-off place like Connecticut or Florida to get those areas’ markets, but Boise State is far off and not very big.

ACADEMIC STANDARDS

Like Boise itself, Boise State has grown in recent years. It grew to more than 22,000 students last fall with new buildings popping up around campus, and it was named a doctoral research institution in January. U.S. News & World Report ranked Boise State the No. 61 college in the West. Forbes ranked it No. 612 in its latest list of America’s top 650 colleges.

REPUTATION

This is surely the most abstract of the criteria Boren mentioned, but let’s take a stab at it anyway. The Broncos have won without much negativity, finding big-time success at each level. Outside of the 2011 NCAA violations that led to the ouster of Athletic Director Gene Bleymaier, Boise State has kept clean. Also, if ESPN backs a new media rights deal for the Big 12, it has long had a strong relationship with Boise State. Any school would be elated to get a piece of the expected windfall, but after getting into the Mountain West and saying “Charlie Brown finally kicked the football,” can you imagine President Bob Kustra’s reaction?

Dave Southorn: 208-377-6420, @IDS_Southorn

Other Big 12 candidates

  • BYU
  • Cincinnati
  • Houston
  • Connecticut
  • Memphis
  • Central Florida
  • South Florida
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