The conference realignment key: Boise State, at a crossroads

Otto Kitsinger III

Here's the current state of football conference realignment. But depending on which way the Broncos go, we could be almost done for now or just getting started.

On the face of it, all the conference realignment action seems to have shaken up the college football landscape. But if you take a closer look, you'll notice that all the moving around really just amounted to rearranging the same deck chairs.

In 2006, when the BCS entered its second phase to include five bowls and increase their accessibility by non-automatic qualifying conference members, there were six AQ conferences (plus Notre Dame) consisting of 66 teams. By 2014, if nothing else changes, there will be five AQ conferences (plus Notre Dame) consisting of 65 teams.

Yep, even with all that upheaval, only five teams will see their status change from have-nots to haves (or vice versa): TCU and Utah have joined the big boys' club by leaving the Mountain West for the Big 12 and Pac-12, respectively, and UConn, Cincinnati and South Florida will lose their AQ status with the demotion of the Big East.

Of course, the realignment madness is far from over. Before it's all settled, Cincinnati and UConn could find new homes in the AQ conferences, either in the ACC or the Big 12 if so, within a season or two. So essentially you'd be looking at the ascension of two teams (TCU and Utah) and the demotion of one (South Florida) when it's all said and done.

So who are we missing here?

There are only three non-AQ teams that have made multiple BCS bowl appearances. While TCU and Utah have been justly rewarded for their excellence, Boise State, 2-0 in its two BCS bowl games, remains on the outside looking in. But the Broncos do have an opportunity here to finally cash in on the fact that they've had the winningest Division I-A or FBS program since joining in 1996.

Boise State was supposed to become the centerpiece of a reconstituted Big East by joining the conference next season as a football-only member. But massive defections by current Big East members, capped by the pullout of the "Catholic 7" basketball schools on Saturday, have changed the outlook of this conference considerably.

Though he reaffirmed Boise State's commitment to the Big East over the summer, president Bob Kustra must reconsider all his options before his school's official entrance to the conference on July 1, 2013. Kustra thus becomes the man of the hour in the realignment game, as his decisions could fashion a domino effect.

He has several options:

Stick it out in the Big East: Despite the defections of Rutgers, Louisville and the basketball schools, the Big East should still have 12 teams for 2013-2014 and 13 for 2015, if everybody else stays put. The conference will still have AQ status in 2013, though after that it will be dumped into the Group of Five, with one guaranteed BCS spot among around 60 teams. The Broncos conceivably could win the Big East next season and dominate the Group of Five for years to come.

But the money potential for the Broncos will have shrunk significantly from when they first signed up. At the time, the Big East just turned down a $150 million-per-year TV deal, and now, after the departure of the Catholic 7, the new deal could be worth as little as $40 million annually, leaving Boise State about $2 million per year as opposed to in the $8-9 million range.

Return to the Mountain West: The Broncos could opt to stay in the conference it joined two years ago, and its BCS status beginning in 2014 will be no different than if it had joined the Big East. Assuming they return with either San Diego State and/or BYU, the MWC would have at least 12 teams and be able to stage a conference title game, thus possibly being in position to renegotiate its current TV deal that still has two years left.

But Boise State would take a financial hit for doing this. First, it could be on the hook for a $10 million exit fee even though it never officially played in the Big East. Second, just by being in the Big East the Broncos would collect nearly $2 million in BCS payout in 2013, whereas it would get just a fraction of that if none of the Mountain West teams crashed the BCS party.

Look for a spot in Big 12 or Pac-12: To be frank, the first is a longshot, and the second is a non-starter. The Big 12 might be interested in the Broncos, along with maybe BYU, as football-only members, mostly for the purpose of being able to stage a conference championship game. The Pac-12, though, despite commissioner Larry Scott's recent comments, doesn't see a whole lot of value in adding Boise State.

Become an independent: This is an option Boise State might seriously study and pursue. The Broncos have enough of a brand power to command a decent TV deal and be able to schedule an attractive collection of teams annually. The risks of being an independent are that unlike Notre Dame, Boise State will not get any kind of guarantees or preferential treatment from the BCS bowls, and if the program goes into a slump, it will quickly sink back into irrelevance with no way out.

Kustra has a very important decision to make. But unless the Big 12 or Pac-12 come calling, his best option might be doing nothing - taking his chances with the Big East.

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