Boise State continues to evaluate its options when it comes to conference affiliation – including paying an outside contractor this year to provide a profile of the athletic department and how it might look in conferences like the Pac-12 and American Athletic Conference.
According to reporting from the Houston Chronicle, the news comes as The University of Texas and the University of Oklahoma have asked the SEC about joining the top-tier conference.Those moves could set off a new wave of conference changes.
Mountain West Conference Commissioner Craig Thompson acknowledged the significance of the news in a statement to The Athletic’s Chris Vannini:
“Texas, Oklahoma, potentially could be a tipping point.”
Last fall, BoiseDev, and the Idaho Press reported school officials contacted several leagues about changing affiliations. The latest documents don’t show any additional email contact but do show the school continues to look at how it would stack up in other leagues.
Former Mizzou AD evaluates options
MRJ Advisors, operated by former University of Missouri athletic director Michael Alden, scored a contract from Boise State in November. The work started to help Boise State find a replacement for former AD Curt Apsey, who school president Dr. Marlene Tromp moved to a fundraising role last fall.
It grew to include a search to replace former head football coach Bryan Harsin — and help Tromp and school leadership analyze Boise State’s current place in the college sports landscape. In total, Boise State agreed to pay $45,000 to MRJ for the work.
BoiseDev obtained dozens of pages of records from the school under Idaho’s open records act.
The new documents build on reporting by BoiseDev and the Idaho Press last fall that showed former Harsin pushed to move the school out of the Mountain West Conference, where most of its sports currently compete.
Tromp at the time said Boise State was ‘proud’ of its role in the Mountain West, but noted that the college sports landscape constantly changes.
How Boise State stacks up
In February, Alden presented a 35-page slide deck to Tromp and Jeramiah Dickey, who the school hired to replace Apsey in January.
Using metrics like revenue, ticket sales, media rights fees, and donations, the slide deck painted a picture of how Boise State would look in the Power 5 Pac-12 or Group of 5 American. Alden’s presentation also shows how the school looks among its current Mountain West peers.
When it comes to the Pac-12, MRJ showed Boise State would rank last among all schools when it comes to ticket sales for football and men’s basketball based on current metrics. For overall revenue, the school also would rank in last place – though this partially hangs on its current media rights deal. If the school joined the Pac-12, media rights could increase, increasing revenue but still leaving the school below the conference average.
The picture in the American is different. Boise State’s overall revenue would rank ahead of Tulane, Tulsa, and Wichita State – though still below the conference average. For ticket sales, Boise State would rank behind only Memphis and Cincinnati – and above the average for the league. MRJ project a decline in total revenue in the American Athletic, owing to a media rights deal that’s inferior to Boise State’s current enhanced deal as a member of the Mountain West.
“Boise State has a ‘preferred’ revenue share in the Mountain West Conference,” Alden wrote. “We do not believe it is likely that other conferences would incorporate. Also, there is currently not an increase in media revenue associated with the AAC compared to the MWC based upon current media contracts. The Pac 12 would provide significant media revenue in comparison.”
The report noted that contributions from the Bronco Athletic Association have declined in recent years, as has revenue from parking and annual contributions – shown on a four-year graph.
“Boise State generates contributions at a positive level compared to MWC and AAC schools,” Alden wrote. “It should be noted, there is a downward trend in the BAA currently. Reorganization, refocus and prioritization in these areas will be important.”
Alden outlined a series of a list of 14 takeaways. They range from funding levels to media rights and staffing structure. The February report also recommended the school operate on two tracks. Boost its position in the MWC, but look for opportunities elsewhere.
“Boise State is encouraged to focus on growing and strengthening their position in the MWC while simultaneously monitoring the national landscape of college athletics,” Alden’s report notes.
Later in February, Alden highlighted an opinion piece from Stewart Mandel in The Athletic for Tromp, Dickey, and VP of University Affairs Alicia Estey. The article outlined five contenders to move up to a Power 5 conference. Boise State appeared at number two on the list, and Alden said the story had “consistencies” with his presentation to Tromp and Dickey.
“The Pac-12 has, to this point, never shown any real interest in Boise State despite its football program being easily the most recognizable brand in all of the Group of 5. Why? Academics. (Just so you know, I hate denigrating a school’s academics. Those rankings are completely arbitrary. But I can’t deny they play a huge role with notoriously snooty university presidents.) Boise is in the “No. 298-389” tier in U.S. News’ rankings, well below any current Pac-12 member. All I know is that Boise is one of the few Group of 5 teams that Joe Power 5 Fan will stop and watch if its game is on. Boise has also built a solid men’s hoops program. It’s a logical fit athletically.”
Alden’s report suggests a list of priorities for Tromp when it comes to the future of Boise State sports. It included working to improve metrics like academic rankings, enrollment, and research, put together talking points around conference affiliation and urged Tromp to continue making connections with the folks Boise State hopes to be associated with in the future.
“Continue to develop and expand relationships with influential individuals that are involved in areas that BSU aspires to,” Alden wrote.
Boise State declines to comment
We posed a series of questions for Tromp and Dickey via the school’s communication team.
A university spokesperson declined to answer them but instead provided a statement.
“Boise State will continue to do its due diligence on all fronts regarding what is best for its athletic department, and ultimately, the institution,” the statement attribute to Dickey said. “This will be an exciting year for Bronco Athletics, and we are looking forward to creating a great experience for our student-athletes and our loyal fans.”
BoiseDev’s Autum Robertson contributed reporting.
Disclosure: Boise State University is an active BoiseDev advertiser for its cybersecurity program. The school had no role in the selection or production of this story.