Conference Expansion: Boise State to the Pac 12, Big 12, or...American?

Conference Expansion: Boise State to the Pac 12, Big 12, or...American?

During the recent Big 12 Media Days, the Conference gave Commissioner Bowlsby the go ahead to explore expansion teams. The last time one of the big conferences made some changes, the other big conferences seemed to follow. Is this just the tipping point? Could this open up the door for Boise State to be picked up by a Power 5 conference?

Unfortunately, Boise State is constantly overlooked in conference expansion talks. They are often mentioned, but typically aren’t at the top of anyone’s lists. Before there was the Power 5 conferences, there was the Automatic Qualifying conferences – those conferences that automatically qualified for a BCS Bowl. Back then, there were six such conferences: ACC, Big 10, Big 12, Big East (now the American), Pac 10 (now Pac 12), and the SEC. For those who have forgotten, Boise State was actually heading to the Big East during this time before everything collapsed.

Fun Fact: Boise State has played in five different conferences: Intermountain Collegiate Athletic Conference (1948-1967 – as a Junior College), Big Sky (1970-1995), Big West (1996-2000), Western Athletic Conference (2001-2010), and the Mountain West Conference (2011-present). Boise State won multiple conference championships as a member of each conference. The Broncos also spent many years as an Independent (1933-1947, 1968-1969, excluding 1942-1945 due to WWII).

Big East Woes

As the Broncos geared up to be part of the AQ conferences, as they deserved to be, the Big East imploded. The 2006, 2007, and 2009 seasons were all very successful seasons for the conference, but in 2011 everything fell to pieces. Pittsburgh and Syracuse left for the ACC, UConn was in the hunt to join them, and West Virginia left for the Big 12. A Boise State Mountain West rival, TCU, was set to join the Big East for the following season but withdrew to join the Big 12. To offset the loss of major teams, they invited Houston, SMU, and Central Florida to join the conference, with Boise State and San Diego State joining as football-only members. However, Boise State, seemingly with a crystal ball, saw the downfall of the Big East and withdrew, also allowing SDSU to leave without consequence. To which the Mountain West graciously accepted them back (why wouldn’t you accept the biggest money-maker back into your conference?) with the stipulation that they couldn’t wear all blue at home. This was later changed.

Enter the American Athletic Conference. As the Big East crumbled, the conference split into two identities: a non-football conference (who purchased the name “Big East”) and the American Athletic Conference (which participates in all sports). The American lost its AQ status and with the new College Football Playoff system, they were placed in the Group of 5 division. We’ll come back to The American…


Pac 12

When talking about Boise State moving into a new conference, typically the first conference that comes to mind is the Pac 12. This could be due to the locations of its teams, and the fact that Boise State wrestling is already a strong member of the Pac 12. On top of that, Boise State typically has at least one Pac 12 opponent in any given year (this year they have two Pac 12 opponents – Washington State and Oregon State). Especially since their bowl affiliations typically line them up against a Pac 12 team.

Fun Fact: The last season Boise State didn’t face a Pac 12/10 opponent was in 2002.

Would the Pac 12 be a good fit for Boise State? Yes, yes it would. Since the 2000 season, the Broncos are 11-7 against teams currently in the Pac 12 (including Utah before the Pac 10 expanded). In the last ten seasons, Boise State is 10-3. This included two wins over Oregon, bowl game wins over Arizona State, Utah, and Washington, and a Fiesta Bowl win over Arizona.

Could Boise State be successful in the Pac 12? Yes. Seeing as how Boise State hasn’t ever faced Stanford or USC (and having only played UCLA once in 1999), it would – in theory – be a consistently much tougher schedule for the Blue and Orange. Two other former Mountain West Conference teams who got promotions (Utah to the Pac 12 and TCU to the Big 12), struggled in the beginning seasons in their new conferences but have recently been in the top rankings once again. In fact, in Week 8 last season, Utah and TCU were ranked #3 and #4 in the nation respectively. TCU also finished 3rd in their conference and Utah finished 2nd in their division and had the second best overall record in the Pac 12.

Arguably Boise State could face the same fate moving into the Pac 12 as Utah did, but would undoubtedly find their way into conference championship games in due time. Unlike Utah, however, don’t expect the Broncos to ever fall below .500 on a season – even in a Power 5 conference.

Why would Boise State get left out of the Pac 12 (if expanded)? The biggest arguments against Boise State moving into the Pac 12 (or any P5 conference) typically consist of weaker academics and weaker (or lack of) sports other than football. Although they do have a Pac 12 wrestling team, Boise State is missing a baseball team (however, President Kustra wants to bring back baseball within the next few years), and the basketball team is arguably not up to Pac 12 standards (even though they beat the Elite Eight Oregon Ducks and had two closer-than-they-looked loses to Arizona), yet the team is now battling for the MWC championship every year against a national powerhouse and conference rival in San Diego State. To those within the Pac 12, these are “valid” arguments. To those in Bronco Nation, these sound like petty excuses and a fear of facing Boise State each season.

Not to mention that the Pac 12 hasn’t said anything about expansion. However, there might be an opening after the Big 12 expands…

Big 12

As of today, the Big 12 seems like the most plausible option for Boise State to jump into a P5 conference, mostly because it is the only conference talking about it. A simple Google search for the Big 12 pulls up countless articles speculating which teams are the best fit. Although there are many that don’t even mention Boise State, Bronco fans (and a small handful of more intelligent sports folk) list Boise State as the top candidate if the only criteria was football. However, most people believe that football is not the only factor.

Would the Big 12 be a good fit for Boise State? Geographically, no. Matchups, probably. Rivalries, yes. Football dominance, yes. The Big 12 houses historically national powerhouse teams such as Texas and Oklahoma. Recently Baylor and TCU (former MWC rival) have been strong contenders as well, whereas Texas has been on the downhill. Boise State has been the underdog powerhouse team since the early 2000s, and has been one of the most consistent giant-slayers in college football. This conference might be a little tougher in judging their fit compared to the Pac 12 due to the fact that the Broncos have only played six total games against teams currently in the Big 12 (four of which were played against TCU before they moved into the conference). However, they are currently sitting at 4-2 against said opponents (1-0 Iowa State – 2002, 1-0 Oklahoma – 2007 Fiesta Bowl, and 2-2 TCU – including a win in the Fort Worth Bowl and the Fiesta Bowl. Their two TCU loses came at one point each). Their next regular season Big 12 opponent doesn’t come until they play Oklahoma State in 2018.

Could Boise State be successful in the Big 12? Yes. Again, they would likely struggle in the first couple of seasons as did TCU when they made the jump; but also like TCU, they would likely be fighting for the top of the conference after a few seasons. If the conference is split into north and south divisions, Boise State would likely face Kansas, Kansas State, West Virginia, and Iowa State – arguably the four weakest teams (other than Kansas State) in the conference. Add in BYU or Cincinnati (two often-mentioned potential additions), and the north division seems like a comfortable spot for Boise State to be in for awhile.

Although Boise State beat Oklahoma 10 years ago, Oklahoma has arguably become stronger. Having to constantly face Oklahoma and Texas, even Baylor and TCU every season might be a challenge. However, if Boise State can fight through this strong conference each year, the College Football Playoffs will be a consistent possibility.

Why would Boise State get left out of the Big 12? The Big 12 is looking to expand by either two or four teams. If they only expand by two teams, there is a more-than-likely chance that Boise State will be left out. If they expand by four teams, there is a very real chance of getting invited. What makes it difficult for Boise State is that the Big 12 has more options than the Pac 12 due to geography.

Being mostly in the midwest, the Big 12 can expand northward, westward, or eastward. Talks of getting a Florida school (UCF, USF, even Florida State) for recruiting purposes is a strong discussion. Moving closer to West Virginia with Cincy, UConn, or even Memphis is a smart move financially (due to travel). Staying in Texas by snagging Houston makes the most sense in almost every way. And if they were to move north, Colorado State isn’t a bad idea seeing as how in-state rival Colorado used to be a member (and might want back in the Big 12 – opening up a Pac 12 spot); and the other strong westward option is (unfortunately) BYU.

Although Boise State is the most dominant football team (in recent history) on this list, they lack some other factors that the Big 12 is looking for. Haters often bring up the distance between West Virginia and Boise (and even Provo) as a huge factor, but it’s not as big as a factor for the Big 12. Academics again hurt Boise State, as well as other sports in the athletic department (although they are improving). One potential loophole for Boise State, however, is that the Big 12 has mentioned they would consider football-only members.

Many people believe that joining as a football-only member isn’t a smart move. Our other sports would likely downgrade into a lower conference from the Mountain West, such as the WCC or the Big Sky, thus lowering the income brought in by those teams. On top of that, Boise State would get an extremely small share of the Big 12’s earnings for a while, whereas they typically get the top share in the MWC. However, joining as a football-only member might be the only shot they have for a while and it would be a smart move to make now, in the hope that their other sports expand in the future and bring in Boise State basketball, wrestling, volleyball, etc.


This might seem like a lateral move, and that argument is valid. But it could be an interesting move that MIGHT benefit Boise State and the American Athletic Conference.

Why does Boise State do it? Remember how the Big East turned into the American Athletic Conference? Remember how Boise State was on its way to the Big East before it crumbled? Boise State would have already been in the American if it stuck to its plan of joining the Big East. Would this have worked out well for Boise State? Maybe. The Broncos have had a fairly successful run in the Mountain West Conference. This last season was one of the first times that the American outperformed the MWC. And now, looking at the list of potential Big 12 additions, the American seems like the conference of choice: Houston, Memphis, Cincy, UConn, UCF, South Florida, and even Tulane and ECU have been mentioned. That is 8 out of 12 teams from that conference that are potential future Big 12ers. If Boise State had stayed, would they be higher on the list?

If the Big 12 decides to stiff the American, like they probably will do to Boise State, the conference would be just as strong as it was the year before, boosting Boise State’s strength of schedule. If the American stays strong over the years, could the Power 5 potentially become the Power 6, and the American get an invite? If there is ANY expansion into the Power 5, Boise State wants to be where that is happening. If the Big 12 decides to not expand after all, BYU will need a conference, and the two smartest landing spots are the MWC (as embarrassing as that would be for them) or the American. The American could expand to 14 teams and become a very powerful Group of 5 conference. Now, many of these things could also be said about the MWC, but only a couple teams from the MWC have been mentioned in Big 12 expansion. The American could either become a P6 conference, or at least be a good audition for Boise State when the expansion round hits again.

Why does the American do it? If the Big 12 takes any school from the conference, they will want to fill the void with another high-caliber team. And if only one school is poached (probably Houston, Cincy, or Memphis), Boise State would fill the void and instantly be touted as the top team in the conference (with, arguably, a stronger strength of schedule than the MWC). Not to mention that Boise State leaving the MWC would significantly weaken that conference, making the American the ONLY strong conference below the P5.

Would the American be a good fit for Boise State? Geographically? No. But, as mentioned above, it could be a great stage for Boise State to play on.

Would Boise State be successful in the American? No question!

Why would Boise State get left out of the American? Probably. If the Big 12 takes four teams and 3-4 come from the American, the conference is all but done. They might try and get the Broncos, but in that case, Boise State wouldn’t even want in.

So what will happen?

Probably nothing for Boise State. If the Big 12 expands, BYU likely gets the nod along with Houston, Memphis, and Cincy. However, if they only take two teams, BYU might also get left out for closer teams and pick Houston and Cincy (or maybe Memphis).

In that case, BYU would soon join the American or come crawling back to the MWC. Why? Their former coach, Bronco Mendenhall, believes that being an Independent “isn’t sustainable.” Independent status has given BYU a great opportunity to consistently play national powerhouse teams (Texas, UCLA, Michigan) but it has hurt them as far as having dominating seasons goes. And with the new College Football Playoffs setup, BYU more-than-likely has to be ranked in the top 10 to get a New Year’s Six bowl game (the Group of 5 gets one guaranteed team in the NY6. This team has to be the highest ranked G5 conference champion). Due to the ‘conference champion’ stipulation, BYU can’t get a NY6 bowl unless they are ranked high enough to do so.

However, if BYU joined the Mountain West, the American, or any of the other G5 conferences, they would instantly be in contention. And if they joined the MWC, it would add an instant boost to the legitimacy of the conference schedule for all of those in the conference, and allow the rivals between BYU and Boise State, Utah State and others live on.

If Colorado does ask to get back into the Big 12, the Pac 12 will need another team to fill the void. The top choices to join the Pac 12 would be Boise State, San Diego State, Colorado State, and BYU (if they don’t join the Big 12). This is a long shot…

Then again, this is College Football and the things that seem to make sense don’t happen, and the things that happen don’t make sense. Crazy things are coming!