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Boise State, American Athletic Conference near settlement over exit fees

Boise State President Bob Kustra
Boise State President Bob Kustra

Attorneys from Boise State and the American Athletic Conference will meet June 9 in Chicago for mediation to end the parties’ long-running lawsuits over Boise State’s decision not to join the conference.

Boise State sued the American in April 2013, claiming damages. The school says it is owed damages through June 30, 2016, according to court documents. The American filed a countersuit in May 2013, claiming Boise State owed $5 million in exit fees as described in the "membership expansion agreement" signed by the two parties.

"I'm hopeful that we can put this to bed," Boise State President Bob Kustra told the Idaho Statesman. "... There wouldn’t be a mediation if the two parties didn’t agree we were closer."

In December 2011, Boise State agreed to join the Big East Conference, abandoning the Mountain West’s geographic proximity for the potential of big money in one of the Bowl Championship Series’ six automatic-qualifying conferences.

But things quickly fell apart for the Big East, which lost associate member Notre Dame, Rutgers and Louisville in quick succession before Boise State's entrance. The league added Tulane and East Carolina.

Those moves led the league’s Catholic non-FBS playing schools to set off on their own, taking with them the Big East name.

That’s when Boise State decided not to join the American, remaining in the Mountain West after the conference agreed to concessions for Boise State, notably a new revenue distribution model for football television money and the ability to sell Boise State football games outside of the league’s contract with CBS Sports. That move was announced in December 2012.

Boise State has argued that the conference did not live up to its obligations, notably securing more Western members and a television package, according to court documents.

“We have a very good case. I have, from the beginning, thought that it’s tough to pay an exit fee to a conference that no longer exists. That’s been our bone of contention,” Kustra said. “Along the way there were some discoveries in the discovery process that showed that we have a pretty good case."

Boise State General Counsel Kevin Satterlee will represent the school at the hearing.

The Mountain West agreed to pay up to $3 million toward Boise State’s Big East/American exit fees.

"You never want to give up and cave in and give too much money. But at the same time we’ve said from the beginning that we were willing to provide some compensation to the conference for our leaving. It just comes down to how close can we get to that number," Kustra said.

The school paid the Big West $1.5 million in exit fees, despite not joining that league for its non-football teams.

TCU, which like Boise State agreed to join the Big East but never did, paid the league $5 million after the Big East filed a lawsuit against the school. TCU is now a member of the Big 12.

Boise State's original agreement with the Big East calls for a $5 million penalty if Boise State did not join the league, but it allowed for reductions in that penalty if the Big East (now American) failed to reach certain thresholds, including total revenue, the percentage of revenue dedicated to football-playing programs and the loss of AQ status.

Editor's note: An earlier version of this story had an incorrect date for the meeting in Chicago.

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