August 11, 2011
Gene Bleymaier made Boise State what it is today.
As athletic director since 1982, Bleymaier oversaw the installation of the Broncos famed blue turf, Boise State's move from Division I-AA to I-A, the football program's rise to national prominence and play in -- and win -- two BCS bowl games.
And on Wednesday, in the wake of NCAA sanction, Boise State announced that it asked Bleymaier to move on.
In a stunning decision made by Boise State president Bob Kustra, Bleymaier will be relieved of his duties on Sept. 8. Boise State will use an interim athletic director until a suitable replacement is hired.
Kustra actually informed Bleymaier of his firing last week, but the school did not announce it until six days later.
Kustra started evaluating his options as the university waited for a response from the NCAA Committee on Infractions regarding a major violation in women's tennis and several other minor violations in other sports, including impermissible housing, transportation and meals benefits for incoming football recruits. The school was also cited for lack of institutional control and could face harsh penalties from the NCAA.
Boise State also moved to the Mountain West Conference this year, which meant greater financial responsibility as it continued to grow its brand into a national household name.
"I did not come to this decision lightly," Kustra said in a statement released by the school. "After a careful management review and discussions about the future of the program, I determined that new leadership will be needed as we commit ourselves to the highest level of attention and enforcement of NCAA standards, and also continue to move Boise State athletics to the next level of success."
It's hard to believe that after all Bleymaier -- who still has two years left on his contract, which pays him $266,115 per year -- has done during his 29 years with Boise State that he could be so expendable.
Just in the past year, we've seen athletics directors who don't have half Bleymaier's credentials continue to keep their jobs in the face of major academic sanctions to their football programs and a lack of institutional control (yeah, looking at you Gene Smith).
Any way you slice it, Bleymaier put Boise State on the map. He hired the right coaches, he gave the Broncos the right advantages, he drove the athletic budget from $2 million when he took over to $30.9 million this year. He made people sit up and take notice of Boise State and now that Boise State has reached consistent national status, the Broncos think they can do better.
There's no doubt this job will be attractive. Although Boise State does not have any current prospects that would take it to an automatic qualifying conference -- unless the Mountain West achieves that status -- it still has tremendous upside. There's no reason, especially with Utah off to the Pac-12 and TCU to the Big East next year, that Boise State can't maintain its national prominence and continue to play in BCS bowl games every year. That will continue to drive revenue and continue to help the university fund athletics and perhaps get the school's other sports on par with its football program.
Still, it's hard to believe Boise State will be doing all of this without Bleymaier.
"It's a great time to be coming into this program," Bleymaier told the Idaho Statesman. "(The challenge) is always going to be financing it. And trying to keep growing."
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Graham Watson is on Twitter: Follow her @Yahoo_Graham.
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