Usually, any variety of speculative conference-hopping this offseason would fall into the ever-expanding category of "Today's hypothetical conference expansion scenario ..." Except in this case, with Mountain West admins coming together next week with a deadline in sight and Boise State waiting expectedly by the phone, the Broncos' long-rumored invitation to the MWC is sounding less and less hypothetical by the day:
Football power Boise State appears to be only waiting for an invitation to become the 10th member of the Mountain West Conference. That invitation could officially come as early as Monday when the MWC's board of directors meets in Jackson, Wyo.
Speculation around the MWC and the Western Athletic Conference is that Boise State will bolt from the WAC. Typical is the comment by Idaho athletic director Rob Spear, who recently wrote to Vandals fans in his blog, "I am predicting June 7 will be the day when the first shoe drops regarding conference realignment."
Readers may remember Spear for his refusal to board a Boise-themed plane last November, perhaps the fiercest moment in the history of a rivalry that hasn't been decided by less than two touchdowns on the field since the Broncos' and Vandals' old home, the Big West, was dissolved a decade ago. But even rival presidents would have a hard time begrudging Boise a move that would mean more money, less travel, better competition and, if the stars align, a shot at an automatic BCS bid. As you may be aware, that title comes with a pretty significant bump in pay grade.
To recap, the Mountain West must pass the BCS' three-pronged test for an automatic bid to one of the big-money bowls, which takes into account a) The average rank of each conference's highest-ranked team in the final BCS standings; b) The average computer rank of the entire conference lineup at the end of the regular season; and c) A complicated point system that measures the percentage of each conference's lineup in the top 25 of the final BCS standings, all over a given four-year period.
For the next BCS negotiations, the four-year period in question will be 2008-11, and though the MWC's "Big Three" – BYU, TCU and Utah – have kept the conference in pretty good standing so far according to criteria a) and c), the bottom half of the league remains an anchor when it comes to the averaging the standing of the entire conference. By that crucial measure, the Mountain West ranks seventh; the BCS requires a top-six finish in all categories. (With likely exceptions for the Big Ten, Big 12, SEC, Pac-10 and ACC, of course, should the need ever arise – those carefully negotiated bowl tie-ins must be fulfilled, after all. Otherwise, based on the first two years of the ongoing evaluation period, the ACC would seem to be on particularly thin ice.) Adding Boise's nearly flawless record to the mix would dramatically increase the MWC's chances of making the cut; if nothing else, it would provide enough of a boost to increase their chances of being granted an exception, however farfetched that scenario may be. Above all, it makes the Mountain West a stronger conference on the field, and therefore a more marketable conference off it – certainly too good to remain in the television ghetto of Versus and the mtn.
Boise State president Bob Kustra is openly in favor of a jump to the Mountain West. Two MWC power brokers, New Mexico president David Schmidly and UNLV athletic director Jim Livengood, have publicly advocated for adding Boise in their local papers in the last month.There seems to be no doubt of an impending invitation from the few Boise-centric media outlets, which seem psyched to descend on Jackson Hole en masse for the big news next week. If it doesn't come then, they won't have to wait long: To get the Broncos on by 2011, the deadline for an invitation is July 1 or bust.
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Matt Hinton is on Twitter: Follow him @DrSaturday.