Boise State, Mountain West on the clock

Mountain West school presidents don’t engage in their annual spring meeting for another 20 days, but already speculation about the hottest non-AQ topic has run rampant.

Boise State, the crown jewel of the Western Athletic Conference and the apple of the Mountain West’s eye, is caught in a love triangle between the two conferences and the most attractive one will ultimately win.

According to rumors here and here, the Mountain West will issue a formal invitation to the Broncos, something that has been heavily speculated for the past couple of years. Boise State has until July 1 to declare its football future for the 2011-12 season.

If Boise State decides to join the Mountain West it would forfeit its revenue for the 2010-11 season (about $1.5 million), but would keep $3 million if it went to a BCS bowl.

Now, there are a ton of reasons Boise State should go, including better competition and a possible BCS automatic berth, but the reasons to stay might weigh as much.

Big Ten spring meetings begin today and the hot topic -- as it’s been for weeks -- is conference expansion. The Big Ten appears to be the catalyst in expansion and the rest of football’s 109 schools are dominoes waiting to fall. Included in those pieces could be several of the Mountain West’s top schools.

The Mountain West happens to reside in some prime poaching areas between the Big 12 and the Pac-10. The Big 12 member institutions have been the subject of Big Ten expansion rumors for months and speculation has grown from the Big Ten adding just two teams to possibly five. If the Big 12 loses any teams, the most logical fit would be a pair of the Mountain West’s upper-tier teams to keep the strength of the conference and open some new television markets.

But the Pac-10 plays a role in this, too. Unlike the Big 12, the Pac-10 doesn’t fear losing membership because it’s isolated on the West Coast. However, that isolation also means that only a limited amount of teams are available that meet the Pac-10 criteria both athletically and academically. According to Fanhouse.com, Pac-10 commissioner Larry Scott says he was given a mandate to bring a "fresh set of eyes to the league" and Scott told the Boulder Daily Camera that he was not waiting for the Big Ten to make the first move. Scott also said that academics would be “of paramount importance to our presidents.”

So if the Mountain West loses teams -- and some expansion models call for almost the entire conference to be dissolved -- Boise State would find itself still without an automatic BCS bid, only slightly better competition than it had in the WAC and no ESPN TV deal.

Even though no formal announcement has been made, if the Mountain West wants Boise State, it’s probably already made an overture. It seems implausible that the conference would give the Broncos less than a month to decide.

And Boise State will have to determine whether it wants to take a leap of faith on the Mountain West or hold on for the roller coaster that will be conference expansion.