Defections have plagued the Big East and without question they are a shadow of their former selves. Nevertheless, coupled with some good remaining schools, great basketball and a short term (but enticing) BCS label; they had an opportunity to hand select the best of the rest, and become the top remaining conference.
By their own admission, having a “bell cow” like Boise State was the key to rally football around. So how did the Big East lose Boise State? The obvious reasons are that the Big East continued to have defections and its stability was in question. However, that only explains why Boise State didn’t stay and not why they left; and there is a difference.
Had the Big East not lost Rutgers and Louisville certainly that would have probably kept Boise State in the fold, losing them prevented Boise State from having a reason to stay all things considered. But that was out of the Big East’s control and the MWC didn’t exactly have major teams of their own and without question, despite its losses, the Big East had the upper hand with what was left.
Instead, the power shift has now followed BSU to the MWC where there is talk of taking back SDSU as well as adding Houston, SMU and maybe even BYU or Cincinnati.
So how did the Big East lose the Boise State war?
- Wrong early entry: In early 2012, with defecting West Virginia getting an early release from the conference the Big East needed to expedite adding one of its new members. A prudent businessman at this point would throw their weight to bring in the most valuable piece first. Get your cornerstone and then build around it if you will. Here-in was the opportunity to bring in Boise State right away to avoid another TCU “we’re in, but we’re out before we’re in” incident. Had they worked to get early entry for Boise State it would have more than likely prevented BSU from joining for one year and then leaving. It also would have added penalties to BSU for trying to do so. Instead, in the Big East worked to add Temple, a program so valuable to the league that in 2004 it was un-imaginably voted OUT of the conference.
It is often the pride of thinking you are in pole position that prevents innovation, motivation, and ultimately success; which was the case here. The Big East fell victim to one of the most commonly known mistakes out there, in this case: “BSU is not in the conference until the fat lady sings.” And if the fat lady is potentially the difference between survival and the show being canceled you suit that hog up and throw her on stage ASAP! Thinking BSU was wrapped up they instead took the easiest path. It’s understood that BSU was more difficult to add right away with the exit fees and the need to get a home for their others sports. But it would have been worth the money and mitigated by…
- No All Sports invite: While Boise State publicly claimed they were happy with the football only invite to save travel expenses for their other sports, the challenges of trying to find a place to move their other sports was a nightmare for BSU. They really had no leverage and it basically forced BSU to allow themselves to be blackmailed by a greedy Big West. And what of the travel? As it turns out, travel would not have been much different. The football team’s first year in the Big East (2013) would have actually traveled LESS miles than their last year in the MWC (2012). Other sports were not far off and when you consider they had been used to traveling to Hawaii and other difficult to reach places such as Louisiana Tech which required both a long flight AND a long bus ride, the difference in travel for other sports was negligible.
Not only was it a major inconvenience and a competitive drop down to the other sports for BSU but it was going to require a financial expense that BSU and BSU alone would have to live with. Additionally, BSU would have to find yet another home for sports not included in the Big West such as Swimming (one of BSU’s top women’s programs) resulting in BSU having sports in as many as 5 conferences: Wrestling/Pac 12, Football/Big East, Basketball+/Big West, Gymnastics/WAC, Swimming+ to??? No matter how you view it, this was a headache and left a sour taste in the mouth for BSU; and let’s not kid ourselves, Boise State would have JUMPED at the chance to play basketball in the Big East. Adding them for all Sports from the beginning alone likely would have made Boise State stay, and traveling concerns would have been minimized by the intent to create a Western division of the conference. Which brings us to…
- Failure to focus on Western expansion: Shortly after adding BSU with the promise of future Western expansion, the Big East went “West” by adding schools like Temple, Navy, Memphis and East Carolina. If the intent was to make the basketball schools happy it failed miserably as those basketball only schools soon after decided to leave as well. But it did plenty to anger Boise State by adding mostly bad football schools none of which were within a time zone of BSU. As it turns out, one of the few advantages to the MWC was having regional schools, inviting Western teams instead of Eastern teams would have taken that advantage away from the MWC and would have mitigated concerns for all-sports travel.
- Lack of financial creativity: The biggest selling point to the Big East was financial gain. Boise State had for years been competing with major powers pulling in millions from their conferences while Boise State was getting peanuts. The Big East gave Boise State a chance to move up in that category. But as additional teams continued defecting the television contract lost more and more ground and Boise State was soon facing the same dilemma with the Big East that they had with the MWC: Boise State using their brand name and TV ratings to split out with multiple teams leaching off it, diluting BSU to not get anywhere near what they were worth.
Consequently, the Big East quickly lost their biggest advantage, money. At this point you have to tell yourself: at what point are we gaining something and what are we losing. BSU was facing gaining little if any and that’s not counting the pay-off they had to give the Big West thugs for other sports. The MWC got it, the Big East did not. Did the MWC lose anything by giving BSU the financials they did? Financials that any other team can get if they earn them? No, they gained better ratings for their home games against BSU, they gained the bell cow of the have-nots, they gained some revenue earned for teams playing at BSU when on national TV, AND they gained money they are likely to get from additional appearances to the big money games thanks to BSU. Giving BSU these concessions gave BSU more of what it deserves while adding great financial and brand value to the rest of the MWC.
I should also add that even with the concessions, BSU, the winningest program of our century, is still getting a fraction of what door knobs like Duke, Washington State, and well the whole Big Ten are getting. The whole conference shifting was caused by the greed of the big conferences and everyone is pointing a finger at BSU for trying badly just to get a 5th of what those loser programs are getting. That irks me.
The Big East will likely become an unknown after all the dust settles, competing with the Sun Belt for ticker space. And while much of their demise was to no fault of their own, it was the final nail in the coffin that they supplied themselves. Any one of the failures I listed, let alone a combination of them, put their destiny in their own hands and they blew it.