Did Boise State pick the right conference?

By Brian Murphy

With the Mountain West and ESPN nearing a seven-year deal, according to ESPN.com’s Brett McMurphy, we can finally assess (financially and otherwise) whether Boise State made the right decision to return to the Mountain West rather than stick with its commitment to join the Big East.

First a few caveats:

• It’s still not a perfect comparison since we haven’t seen details of the Mountain West’s deal with ESPN to televise 22 football games, including all Boise State home games, and 25 basketball games.

• Would the Big East football schools — soon to be renamed the “America 12″ or something like that — have gotten a larger TV contract with Boise State in the league? Would the Mountain West’s have been smaller without the Broncos and, presumably, San Diego State?

• The Big East announced its official football-basketball breakup Friday.

OK, back to the comparison.

Big East (or America 12)

TV contract: 7 years, $130 million (runs through 2019-20). Since the league had its basketball and football TV contracts on a different calendar, McMurphy referred to this as a 6-year, $120 million deal from 2014-15 to 2019-20 with a $10-million payment for the 2013-14 season.

According to the ESPN.com report, CBS will pay the league an additional $2 million annually for men’s basketball rights.

• Payout: With 10 schools in 2014, it amounts to roughly $2 million per school per year. When the league presumably expands to 12 for football in 2015 (Navy is scheduled to join that year), the payout per school will be reduced.

• Exposure: 65 football games, 150-plus basketball games, a conference football championship game and the Big East men’s basketball tournament on ESPN’s family of networks, according to ESPN. ESPN is likely to sell some of the games to Fox, which recently announced its own all-sports network (Fox Sports 1).

Mountain West

• TV contract: The league renegotiated its television agreement with CBS Sports Network in December. CBS Sports Network had controlled all of the conference’s rights until that point. The new deal allowed the Mountain West to sell rights to up to two additional national networks. And it allowed the Mountain West to market Boise State’s home football games outside of the CBS Sports Network deal.

CBS Sports Network was paying the Mountain West $8 million per year, but that figure was reduced when the deal was redone.

McMurphy’s story indicates that the Mountain West’s total rights package — from CBS Sports Network and ESPN — is now $116 million over six years.

• Payout: If the money were split evenly among 12 members (Utah State and San Jose State join as full members next season; Hawaii is a football-only.), the per-school annual payout would be $1.5 million. But that’s not how things will work in the Mountain West.

The league will pay out a national television bonus for teams that appear on ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox, ESPN or ESPN2. (It does not include games on sister networks like CBS Sports Network, NBC Sports Network and Fox Sports 1.) The bonus is $300,000, plus an additional $200,000 for Saturday games. The ESPN deal includes all six Boise State home games, so the Broncos stand to do very well under the deal.

If all six Boise State home games were televised on ESPN or ESPN2 on Saturdays, it would take $5 million out of the pot in bonuses. (BSU would get $3 million — six times $500,000 — and its four conference foes in those games would get $2 million — four times $500,000). It seems unlikely that all six games will be on ESPN or ESPN2.

So it will be an uneven pay structure with Boise State almost assuredly getting the most money. Hawaii, with its attractive late television time slot, is likely to get more money than an average Mountain West team from the bonus structure.

• Exposure: McMurphy reports that ESPN will televise 22 football games and 25 basketball games across its family of networks. There are no details yet on how many games CBS Sports Network will carry.

So which is better?

Financially: The Big East (America 12) has been clear that it would not give in to Boise State’s “outrageous” demands, including selling its home football game television rights outside of the league’s contract.

We’ll need to see exactly how much Boise State can make under the Mountain West deal, but it seems nearly certain that the Broncos will make more with the uneven distribution in the Mountain West than they would have in the Big East (America 12).

Quality of opponents: A wash.

Geographically: Remaining in the Mountain West makes total sense.

Basketball conference: The Mountain West is much better than the Big West, where most of Boise State’s Olympic sports programs were going to be housed if the Broncos went ahead with the move to the Big East.


In my opinion, the Mountain West is the much better fit for the Broncos. There are benefits to having all your sports programs in the same athletic conference — and the Mountain West is a much better home for the Broncos’ improving basketball program.

The football program gets back on ESPN (a huge deal for Chris Petersen and exposure) and it stands to collect more money. It has the same opportunity to reach the BCS 2.0 bowls as it would in the Big East (America 12).

As rightfully pointed out in the comments (by AIR-11) below, making a BCS 2.0 game will be more lucrative as a member of the Mountain West. If the Broncos appear in one of those games, they will collect 50 percent of the revenue with the other 50 percent going to the conference.

Sports columnist Brian Murphy writes about all sports in the Treasure Valley with a concentration on Boise State football and men's basketball. Murph has been with the Statesman since 2005. You can follow him on Twitter @MurphsTurph.

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