RUSTON, La. – Is it cowardice or collusion?
Boise State athletic director Gene Bleymaier is all but begging for a major opponent – any major opponent – to play his Broncos, particularly in 2011. He can hardly get his calls returned. Not by the SEC. Not by the Big Ten. Not by anyone.
Bleymaier is making a nearly unheard of offer in college football scheduling – Boise will bring its popular, high-profile, top-10 team to any stadium in any town to play any big name team in America in 2011. And they don't have to return the date in Idaho.
So far, no one has bit.
ESPN has even become involved trying to broker a deal that will almost assuredly be nationally televised. Still no luck.
It's the kind of non-conference game that should have schools salivating. Boise delivers an opponent that will challenge your players, exposure that will extend your brand and a home game that will excite your fans.
"It's been surprising how many big schools have not been receptive of us coming to their place," Bleymaier said.
This is the conundrum for the upstart program and every non-major conference school trying to battle for national respect.
Boise is 44-4 over the past four seasons, including 4-1 against major conference opponents. Yet that doesn't guarantee the Broncos a slot in a big money BCS bowl due to the level of competition they play in the Western Athletic Conference.
The school acknowledges it needs to play tougher teams. Yet how can they beat quality opponents if quality opponents won't play them?
What Boise is left with is games like Friday's here. They traveled 2,000 miles to beat Louisiana Tech 45-35, a conference game, and improve to 9-0 on the season. For that they practically had to apologize because it wasn't a blowout.
"That's how it always is when we play," coach Chris Petersen said. "It's never good enough. It's good enough for us, we won. If you're looking to win by so much, if you're looking for style points, if you're looking to play for the polls, which we're not, it's not going to be good enough."
Petersen has had it with arguing about whether the Broncos deserve a BCS bid. All he can do is win games. His team beat the one major opponent that would play them this year – a 19-8 victory over Oregon in the season opener.
Yet he deals with questions about who his team plays in the WAC. Boise won consecutive games this year by a combined score of 99-16 and dropped from No. 4 to No. 7 in the BCS standings. Petersen said he wouldn't be surprised if they dropped again this week. They may again put together a perfect season only to be left out.
The only answer is to play better non-conference opponents. Next season they have games against Oregon State and Virginia Tech. After that though, things may be drying up. In 2011, they can't get one game, let alone two.
So are the big schools scared of playing Boise? Avoiding tough non-conference opponents is the new trend in college football thanks to the BCS. The championship system discourages dangerous, if exciting, out-of-league scheduling as it continues to sap the life out of the regular season.
Or, perhaps, this is how the major conferences are going to deal with the Broncos.
Put it this way, if no one good agrees to play Boise then Boise can't beat anyone any good. And if Boise can't beat anyone any good, then how can they ever argue they're deserving of a spot in a $17.5 million BCS bowl?
"I don't think it's collusion," Bleymaier said. "I think it's athletic directors going to their football coaches and saying, 'hey, what about playing this school?' If coaches had their druthers they'd play sisters of the poor 11 times."
Still, the frustration is obvious.
"Some of those schools that are saying 'let them play our schedule' won't play us," Bleymaier said.
That no one will accept Boise State's offer is absurd. This isn't a decade ago, when playing the program was no-win situation. If you won, you were supposed to win because no one had heard of them. If you lost (which was likely) it was a disaster.
There can't be any college fans left who don't know how good Petersen's team is. A game against Boise would bolster anyone's home schedule. It would be a huge game. The television exposure would be invaluable.
Maybe Florida and Texas don't need a game with Boise (they can ride non-conference cupcakes to the title game). A middle of the pack Big Ten or Big 12 team certainly does though. Boise's program is more famous than all of them – the Broncos are on true national television seven times this season alone.
Yet no one wants the game. They'll schedule mismatches from the old Division I-AA instead (and charge full ticket price). Bleymaier has to keep his composure as he listens to the critics.
Last year Utah went 13-0 yet didn't have a chance to play for the BCS title. At a Congressional subcommittee hearing University of Nebraska chancellor and BCS figurehead Harvey Perlman was asked what the Utes could've done differently.
"They could have played the schedule Nebraska did," Perlman said.
While it's par for the course for the BCS to have a leader who has no idea how college football works, what can a Boise State do in the face of that kind of ignorance?
Would Boise accept an invitation to join the Big 12?
"Yeah, of course," Bleymaier said. "If we were in their conference we'd play that schedule."
Not only is that not happening they can't get one game against the league. While Bleymaier won't say specifically which schools have turned him down, he will say that the open date remains – Sept. 3, 2011. The offer stands, the Broncos will go anywhere.
And, lo and behold, guess which major conference school happens to have an open date? How about Harvey Perlman's Nebraska, the one-time powerhouse which could use all the big attention grabbing games it can get these days?
Don't hold your breath on that one – chicken or collusion, the result is the same.