This fall and winter brought tremendous change to the athletics department at Boise State University. A shortened football season that ended without a bowl game. A change in jobs for the athletic director. The departure of longtime head football coach Bryan Harsin. The hiring of a new athletic director. And, the hiring of a new football coach to come.
BoiseDev, in collaboration with The Idaho Press, published a pair of reports in December that shed significant new light on some of the behind the scenes moves. The reporting came as a result of more than a dozen public records requests over several months.
Back-and-forth for a record
Our stories came after I started looking for something different: the Twitter block list of Bryan Harsin. Harsin, the now-former football coach, has been known to block users on the social media service popular with folks in sports and media. In August, we ran a story on the Boise School District blocking community members – a story that led to a change in policy for the district.
Blocking a user on Twitter prevents that person from seeing or replying to tweets.
A federal appeals court ruled President Donald Trumpcould not block some userson the service because it is a public forum. Several users alsosued New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortezfor blocking them on the service. She later apologized as part of a settlement.
After we ran the story on the Boise School District, a reader asked us about the list for Harsin. As a long-standing believer in open access to public information, and in Idaho’s public records laws, it occurred to us that this would be a public record.
So I asked for it.
And, I was turned down.
Which prompted more records requests. And, further requests for the list over a period of several months. As we worked through the process, it became even more clear the record was a public one, and after several months of back and forth, the school provided us with the list of accounts blocked by Harsin on Twitter in early December. What we found was a fairly lengthy list of blocked accounts by the coach, who at the time was Idaho’s highest-paid public employee.
In the past, I’ve been publicly critical of Boise State for some practices around public records. And in this case, I was initially very frustrated at the shielding of the block list, as Idaho State Code made it pretty clear that the record was a public one. Harsin used Twitter in executing his job, used trademarks of the State of Idaho/Boise State on the account, had it tied to his boisestate.edu account, and the school helped him get the white and blue “checkmark” verification icon, among other factors that weighed on the side of public disclosure. But the school worked through a thorny issue to comply with the law and bring about disclosure of records in a proper way.
You might have noticed, we never published the list or a story on it. Unlike the Boise School District, Harsin didn’t use his Twitter account to announce things of any particular importance. While he did use the account to announce recruiting news and other things – it wasn’t an avenue for vital information. What we found was interesting, but not necessarily newsworthy. Of the dozens of public records requests that I and my team submit each year, many don’t yield any news. This was one of those cases.
As I worked through the process on the block list, I asked for communication between Harsin and Curt Apsey leading up to Apsey’s change of role at the school.
And in that, we found news.
As I reported with BJ in December, emails indicated the school was taking steps to evaluate new conferences – and that Harsin had agitated to move the school from the Mountain West. He was also critical of MWC president Craig Thompson. The story drove headlines throughout the sports world.
‘Where are we headed’
As we worked on that story, we asked for additional records. One of those, revealed for the first time here, shows where the school hoped to progress as an athletics department. The document, prepared by Football Chief of Staff and Associate Athletic Director Brad Larrondo lays out a number of ideas, initiatives, and goals for the program.
Larrondo left his job as AD this weekend according to reporting from The Idaho Press, and will join Harsin at Auburn University. With a new athletic administration and football coming in – the document no longer provides a roadmap, but instead gives a glimpse of where the department might have gone.
“The purpose of this document is to provide perspective and vision for Boise State Athletics and the aspiration to be among the nation’s most respected and recognized athletic programs,” the August, 2020 memo noted.
It laid out a series of items that were “working,” as well as things the school “should value.”
It also lays out a long list of goals and aspirations. Some of them, you’d expect like “football as a Top 25 perennial program” and “Advance in both the NCAA Men’s and Women’s Basketball Tournament.”
The document also list “strive to become a member of a Power 5 conference,” which dovetails with our earlier reporting about engagement with the American Athletic Conference about joining in football. While the AAC is not currently in the top tier “Power 5” group, some speculate a change in membership could help push the conference into an expanded “power 6” group.
Larrondo’s memo covered the situation at Albertsons Stadium. BoiseDev exclusively reported a year ago on plans for changes to the stadium – including preliminary renderings. The plan would bring significant change to the east side of the stadium.
The August memo envisioned starting that project during the 2022 season with a hoped-for completion in time for the 2024 football season.
The school also contemplated moving student seating from its current location in the stadium to the south end zone, which would “provide additional scholarship seating contribution growth as well as main core of stadium ticket revenue.” The memo targeted next year for the change. Boise State previously moved the band from the east end of the stadium to the north end zone during the last decade.
Season ticket sales began to slump in recent years, and the Larrondo memo envisions returning to a level of 20,000 season tickets for football, or “$6 million in season ticket revenue.” Overall, the memo puts forth the goal of getting to $11.5 million in ticket revenue – from just $8.2 million in 2020.
While the plan lays out some ideas – both specific and broad, they came at a whole different time for Boise State. Since the document was created just a few months ago, the head football coach, athletic director and author of the memo all left their positions. Where the school heads next – from conference to personnel, will shape much of the next decade for Bronco athletics.