Before the Big12's media days started, a report came out that caught the eye of the sports world for a few hours, but was then largely dismissed. The report, here presented by CBS Sports, contains the following information:
Big 12 administrators will be presented with information this week at the league's spring meetings that expansion could earn the conference at least an additional $1 billion over the length of its remaining TV rights contract, CBS Sports has learned. If the league expands by four teams, provisions in its contracts with ESPN and Fox provide money for that benchmark. If the expansion is by two teams, the increase would be $500 million...
... Consultant Navigate Research has told the league it has a 62 percent chance of reaching the College Football Playoff in any given year if it stays at 10 members. That figure goes up to approximately 75 percent if the league expands.
So the Big12 reportedly can make an additional 500 Million by adding 2 teams.. or $1 billion by adding 4, and it can increase it's changes of having a member team in the CFP. With that backdrop, the news of renewed expansion interest yesterday makes more sense and becomes a bit more clear. The Big12 would be best served by expansion, and speaking financially, by adding 4 teams.
With the Big12's announcement yesterday that they were, indeed, going to explore expansion, social media exploded with possible candidates.. fans of schools like BYU, Cincinnati, Memphis, Central Florida, UConn, and South Florida all pled their case to the void.. Boise State fans were no different, but just how realistic are Boise State's chances? The Big12 (through representatives at their media days) identified certain factors they'll consider. Lets look at the reality of Boise State's situation.. both good and bad, and the matching counter arguments.
1) Strength of Athletic Department
--Boise State's overall Athletic Department is strong for a Mountain West Conference member, but not as much for a Big12 member. Football is obvious, and Men's Basketball has been strong for the past few years, but Women's Sports have lagged for the most part for years, with the exception of the Distance runners, who have been world class, and who include world class athletes. The overall Athletic Department would need to upgrade, greatly, to compete in the Big12. Boise State's 2015 Athletic Budget was $45.7 million dollars. By comparison, the smallest Athletic Budget in the Big12, Iowa State, still operated at over $20 million over Boise State, ($68 million). That sort of disparity is hard to overcome.
Counter-argument: Obviously more money from the Big12 TV Contract would immediately change Boise State's operating budget, as well the new.. much more attractive opponents, would result in more tickets sold, more season tickets sold, and more fan involvement.. meaning more money from marketing, advertising, and likely.. booster donations. As well, the Big12 is said to be considering all membership configurations, including Football only members. If Boise State were included as a Football only member, the overall Athletic Department strength wouldn't be nearly as big a focus as the overall Football Program strength.. and in that regard, Boise State leads the field of potential candidates with BYU the only possible rival to that claim. Given that Football drives the expansion bus, if the Big12 is honest about considering all membership configurations, the addition of Boise State (and BYU) would be the only move that would be truly beneficial to the Conference in the area that actually matters, overall Conference Football strength.
2) Fan Base Size
--Boise State's enrollment for 2015 was 22,113. That's within 5000 students of a number of Big12 schools, and significantly larger than Private Schools TCU and Baylor. Alumni, however, is a huge disparity. Boise State has roughly 75,000 living alumni, Texas has 482,000. (the most extreme comparison)
However, there are other ways to judge Fan Base Size. USA Today does an interesting measurement ranking.. where they rank a Fan Base based on social media activity and fan engagement (through voting) and rates them weekly based on those measurements. Boise State ended 2015 in the Top-50 of all schools.. ahead of Big12 member institutions Iowa State, Kansas State, and Kansas. Hardly scientific, true.. but it's representative of Boise State's fanbase. It's large, it's engaged, and it's rabid.
When going to the Fiesta Bowl against a 'disappointing' draw in TCU.. Boise State fans still showed up in droves.
Bottom Line is.. Boise State football fans travel.
Counter-argument: Not much of a counter argument to this one. Boise State is a young University, and thus.. still building, but Boise State's fanbase is pretty easy to read. If it's Bronco Football, Bronco Nation shows up. Plus, as Berry Trammel said almost a year ago, When viewers in Philadelphia or Fort Lauderdale or Kansas City or Seattle flip channels on a Saturday, they don’t recognize Cincinnati or East Carolina or Central Florida. And if they do, they don’t stop. But they will stop on Boise State. The Broncos are fun. The wild Fiesta Bowl win over the Sooners turned Boise State into a national underdog. The Broncos used that platform to build a portfolio that resonates with college football fans. Boise State draws not only the eyes of their own fans, but the eyes of the Nation when they play. Not many other schools can make that claim.
3) Market Size
--Boise is not a large City. In terms of population, Boise checks in at just under 220,000 people, which ranks at 107 in TV Markets, but when you consider the Boise Metro (666,100), Boise's market jumps from 107 up to 81. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Metropolitan_Statistical_Areas) Still not impressive, but a much better statistic for the Broncos. When it comes to future growth though, Boise is one of the hottest spots in America, ranked by Forbes as one of the Top-15 fastest growing cities. (http://www.forbes.com/pictures/mhj45mhlf/15-boise-id/#271433547fd7). That said, for immediate impact, (we live in a 'what have you done for me lately world'), Boise is one of, if not the, weakest expansion candidates in this category.
Counter-argument: Big12 Comissioner Bob Bowlsby mentioned that the Big12 is looking for members, "that will grow over time as we grow,” Bowlsby said, “that will bring stability to the conference and that have a high top end, will benefit from an affiliation with the schools that are currently in our conference.” If The Big12 is looking for true growth potential, there are only 2 expansion candidates whose cities are listed in the Top-15 cities for growth.. Boise State and BYU (Provo is #7, Salt Lake is #5). Another consideration is moving to the West with BYU and Boise State allows the Big12 to expand into the Mountain Time Zone to compete w/ the Pac12 for TV viewership in evening games, thus giving the Big12 more potential TV coverage with an extra time slot. This alone could make the duo of Boise State and BYU attractive. Just offset their schedules so that one is always a home team during the season and you have your late game.
4) School's Reputation for integrity
--Reputation was stated, presumably, as a result of the scandals that have rocked Baylor recently. It's a somewhat subjective standard as every school has problems from time to time.. but overall, is the school and athletic department well run? Do student athletes actually attend classes.. or are they more of a Tar Heel, academically? Boise State was once squeaky clean, but a an internal investigation led to the NCAA applying the dreaded Lack of Institutional Control in 2011 (http://espn.go.com/ncaa/news/story?id=6471288) but very little of it was because of the Football program.. instead focusing on the dreaded Women's Tennis Team. The former Athletic Director was fired, the athletic compliance department was moved from under the Athletic Department to the Office of the President, and Boise State made a policy of not allowing incoming recruits to sleep on couches and/or share happy meals with incoming recruits. Boise State, for its part, learned its lesson. It's likely, in all honesty, that barring any unforeseen scandal, "reputation for integrity" was more of a shot across the bow of Baylor than an actual consideration. None of the realistic expansion candidates have any (known) scandalous things in their past, so heinous, as to render this a problem.
Counter-argument: Everybody's got skeletons in their closet, so long as there's no huge, late breaking revelations.. this point seems to be more lip service than actual consideration.
--Like Distance.. it's impossible to ignore or change. Boise State is still in its infancy as a 4-year institution, having barely reached it's 50th year. Compare that to Texas who has 135 years of awarding degrees. That's a massive disparity in academic history. Boise State's academics aren't at the level of Big12 members. However.. Boise State has grown impressively in just the recent past, expanding beyond their 'commuter school' mandate by the State Board of Education, Boise State was recently awarded Carnagie Doctoral Research classification. However, despite these advancements, there is no denying Boise State is not a good academic match with the Big12.
Counter-argument: I think, from the statements made yesterday in discussing this, the Big12 realizes that the Expansion Tree has been picked pretty clean.. all that is left are teams that have a few bruises, maybe even a worm or two. Boise State's academic reputation is a worm, lets not kid ourselves, but Boise State's academic reputation is growing, and would grow substantially more and faster by associating with Schools that it aspires to emulate.
... Lastly, I'll address another consideration often brought up but not specifically mentioned yesterday, Location..
6) Geographic Location
--Distance is one of the first, and most obvious knocks against Boise State as a candidate. Sure, Boise's airport is large enough to handle charter flights.. but Boise is still geographically isolated compared to all other Big12 members and candidates. Boise is 1628 miles away from Austin TX.. only UConn is further. This is an immovable obstacle to Boise State's inclusion. West Virginia would have to travel over 2200 miles to play at Bronco stadium.. even Kansas, the closest current Big12 member, would travel 1300 miles. Not exactly a fan-friendly jaunt.
Counter-argument: There really isn't much of a counter-argument to this. Facts are facts. Inviting Boise State for all sports would require insane travel for non-revenue sports like Volley Ball or Softball. Even Basketball would be burdened by travel costs. However, there is one saving grace.. Football-only invitation. If Boise State were included as a Football only member, the cost of travel would be minimized greatly. Even divisional foes would only travel to the Blue once every other year. That's an expense that could be off-set by the additional revenue of inviting 14 teams, as referenced above.
Also, conference expansion makes strange bedfellows. Lets remember, before Boise State decided not to leave the MWC, the Big WEast was going to happen.. and that was after Boise State had been thoroughly dismissed as a possible Big East expansion target.
In consideration of all this, it seems that IF Boise State were to be legitimately considered for Big12 expansion, it would only be as a Football only member, and very likely only in conjunction with BYU. (To bridge the location gap). While BYU has publicly stumped for Big12 consideration, there has been no announcements.. or news of any kind, coming out of the Boise State athletic department. However, Bronco fans shouldn't interpret the silence as inaction.
First, Boise State University President Bob Kustra, the former Lieutenant Governor of Illinois, is politically savvy and has been working behind the scenes to get Boise State into the Big12 for a very long time..
Second, after Boise State's failed Big East venture and subsequent return for a sweetened TV Contract deal.. Boise State has to be politically correct so as to not further antagonize our Mountain West companions. Afterall, what good would it do to publicly stump for inclusion into the Big12 and then face the MWC's wrath if no invitation ever arrived? The backlash would be real, and substantial. Beyond that.. nobody wants to be seen as unfaithful to their home conference, how does that make you an attractive expansion target for future moves?
The bottom line is, IF the Big12 ultimately decides to expand, they will have their pick of any number of interested schools. The case for Boise State, like all others still available, has some strengths and some weaknesses. The only certainty is that there will be dozens of articles, and even more 'anonymous internet source' tweets before we learn anything, the Big12 has said it could vote on specific members as soon as September, so buckle up.
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