Big East Expansion: Boise State And Advancing The Western Front

BOISE, ID - DECEMBER 03: Josh Borgman #19 of the Boise State Broncos carries the hammer onto the field before the game against the New Mexico Lobos at Bronco Stadium on December 3, 2011 in Boise, Idaho. (Photo by Otto Kitsinger III/Getty Images)

There's only room for one sixth-biggest conference in this town, and the Big East has just ensured the Mountain West won't challenge for that status again.

If the Big 12 can have 10 teams and the Big Ten 12, then why can't the Big East have San Diego State as a member? After all, America's Finest City (that's what it's called; I know, I live here) is east of Honolulu and Anchorage, not to mention Reno.

The conference realignment craze hit a crescendo Wednesday when the Big East added five schools, with four nowhere near the Eastern Time Zone. Boise State and San Diego State will enter as football-only members while SMU, Houston and Central Florida will join as full members. They'll begin in the Big East in 2013, though it could be sooner if these schools can find a way to wiggle out of their current conferences.

But before you blame the latest absurdity on the evil that is the BCS, there's a bigger villain. While the BCS has done its part to help unravel century-old rivalries and decades-long affiliations, the insane game of musical chairs had more to do with television and the almighty dollars it brings.

That the Big East is able to survive with some semblance of legitimacy intact is mostly at the expense of the Mountain West Conference. A series of strategic missteps has taken the MWC from the precipice of gaining automatic qualifying status in the BCS to a rump conference consisting strictly of football also-rans.

In 2006, the Mountain West decided to work with CBS and NBC to develop its own TV network called the Mtn. The idea was patterned after the nascent Big Ten Network. But there was just one problem - the Mountain West ain't the Big Ten.

Over the past five years, the conference has had a difficult time getting the Mtn. distributed to areas of its member schools - most notably the Metroplex where TCU plays - never mind outside of its own region. Besides the Mtn., the MWC entrusted coverage of its best football games to obscure channels such as Versus and CBS College Sports, instead of ESPN's family of networks.

It was an unmitigated disaster. Member schools simply were not getting enough TV revenue to compete. Whereas Big Ten and SEC teams were each earning $18-$22 million annually from their media deals, the MWC schools were getting less than 10 percent of that, at about $1.2 million. TCU soon made its aborted move to the Big East in search of AQ status and better television money, followed by Utah to the now Pac-12. And BYU, deciding that going independent was preferable than staying in the Mountain West, also bolted.

So in less than 12 months, the MWC lost four member schools to BCS AQ conferences, plus BYU. Had commissioner Craig Thompson been able to hold this group together, it's a near certainty that the MWC would've gained AQ status by 2014 (if there's still such a thing as AQ status, or even the BCS, for that matter). 

But absent of a robust television deal, these schools didn't want to, and perhaps couldn't afford to wait. Utah and TCU are expected to increase their TV takes tenfold in their respective new conferences. BYU is getting about $10-$14 million from its own independent TV deal. And now Boise State and San Diego State, even at the risk of having AQ status for just one season, decided to take their ball and go east.

Make no mistake, Boise State is the lynchpin of the entire Big East expansion, which would've been meaningless without it. With the Broncos now a highly recognizable national brand, they decided it's finally time to leverage it. That Boise State was snubbed for the second year in a row by the BCS helped just enough to push it over the edge.

In the reconstituted Big East, with the additional TV markets of Dallas (SMU), Houston, Orlando (UCF) and San Diego and the brand power of Boise State, each school should expect to get between $7-8 million annually. While that's not Big Ten money, it's far better than Mountain West or Conference USA money. Plus, the champion of this conference, at least for 2013, is guaranteed a BCS bowl spot, which means each member school will get an additional $2-plus million (as opposed to about $250,000 in years when no non-AQ school was picked by a BCS bowl, like this year).

The Big East's move from sea to shining sea also laid bare the monopolistic powers of football in college sports, and there's not a damn thing the NCAA can do about it. Let's break this down in the perspective of how the latest realignment affects these schools and conferences (and see this chart to make sense of it all):

Boise State - Coach Chris Petersen finally made his disgust for the BCS known, and a couple of days after, he's taken steps to the other side of the divide, even with the future past 2013 still a great unknown. Meanwhile Boise's other sports teams will be returning to the WAC, a conference it had abandoned just a year before. Of course, in the grand scheme of things, they don't matter.

San Diego State - The Aztecs were the fallback choice after BYU declined to give up its independent TV deal to join the Big East. SDSU will park the rest of its sports in the Big West, an All-California conference (plus Hawaii) that it has historical and geographic ties to. But the big loser is its now powerhouse basketball program. Steve Fisher's team, instead of facing UNLV at Thomas and Mack Center and New Mexico at the Pit, will be making regular visits to glorified high school gyms in Fullerton, Northridge, Riverside, etc. That can't help recruiting.

SMU, Houston, UCF - These schools are unquestioned big winners in every aspect. They upgrade to a better league in all sports, particularly in men's basketball, where the Big East is a premier conference. They were brought along to replace outgoing members Syracuse, Pitt and West Virginia and create a western sector to lure Boise State along. That's OK. They'll take the cash.

Big East - Commissioner John Marinatto worked tirelessly to put together this deal to save the league and his own job. The Big East now may even be able to retain its AQ status and stay at the table with the big boys after the current BCS deal runs out in 2013. But it also came at a price. Its once vaunted basketball conference - the reason that the Big East existed in the first place - will be a shadow of itself. Chew on this for a minute: Jim Boeheim, Bob Huggins and Jamie Dixon will be replaced by Donnie Jones, Matt Doherty and James Dickey.

Mountain West - The undisputed big loser, the conference will now join the WAC, MAC and Sun Belt as part of football Siberia. Even if it goes through with its merger with CUSA, that just makes Siberia bigger.

And on a personal note, Wednesday was also truly historic. I had previously lived in Pac-10/12 (L.A., San Francisco), Big Ten (Ann Arbor), Big 12 (Dallas), SEC and ACC (Jacksonville) territories. And now, rolling out of the same bed I was in yesterday, I've fulfilled my BCS residency requirement as I'm now in Big East country.

I wonder what Ron Burgundy thinks of all this.

Samuel Chi is the proprietor of and managing editor of RealClearSports. Sam's college football and BCS analysis, exclusively for SB Nation, will appear on Sundays and Mondays throughout the season. Follow him on Twitter at BCSGuru.

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