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September 26, 2011Even in realignment, it's hard to figure out where Boise State fits.
With all the rumors and speculation about which teams might be going to the Big 12, who the Southeastern Conference might be looking to add next and how the Big East is going to patch its holes, the Broncos rarely come up.
Nobody seems to want one of the most successful and popular football programs over the last decade. The Big 12 should.
"They are a relatively nontraditional program," said Western Athletic Conference Commissioner Karl Benson said Sunday. "But on the other hand, from a performance standpoint, they are much better and much stronger and a have a recent history that's much better than a lot of other schools."
The fourth-ranked Broncos are in their first season in a new conference, the Mountain West, and have picked up right where they left off in the WAC. Boise State has rolled to a 3-0 start behind quarterback Kellen Moore, a Heisman Trophy finalist last year who is well on his way to earning another invite to New York city.
On Saturday, Moore threw four touchdown passes in less than 2 1/2 quarters and the Broncos cruised to a 41-21 victory against Tulsa.
Of course, wins and losses are only a small part of what makes a program attractive to conferences looking to add-or replace-members.
"If I took off my WAC hat off and put on my Boise State alum hat I'd say why not?" Benson said. "But from a straight business standpoint, I can understand the lack of interest."
Criteria No. 1 is television market size and that's a big problem for the Broncos.
According to the broadcasting web site stationindex.com, Boise, Idaho, is the 112th largest television market in the United States, just ahead of Sioux Falls, S.D., and right behind Springfield, Mass.
To compare, the Atlantic Coast Conference's recent additions of Pittsburgh and Syracuse bring along the 23rd ranked market and the 81st. And that's not even counting the New York City market that Syracuse claims it can help the ACC infiltrate.
Then there's academics. The college presidents who have to sign off on expansion like to be able to cloak these money grabs in the righteousness of academics.
During the ACC's announcement of the additions of Pitt and Syracuse last week, Pittsburgh Chancellor Mark Nordenberg cited the university's research relationships with future ACC brethren Wake Forest, Virginia Tech and Duke before even mentioning athletics.
It's fair to say that ranking the quality of education provided by an institution of higher learning can be nebulous. And surely Boise State can make a case to be on par academically with plenty of schools currently residing in BCS automatic qualifying conferences.
But Boise State does fall short in a couple of common benchmarks for determining the top universities.
Boise State is not a member of the Association of American Universities, which bills itself as association of 61 leading research institutions.
Boise State is also not among the top 200 institutions of higher learning ranked by the magazine U.S. News and World Reports.
If you're wondering why the Pac-12 picked Utah and Colorado over Boise State when it expanded last season, market size and academics are your answers.
But now the Big 12 is looking for another member and the schools that have been mentioned as most likely targets have been independent BYU, Louisville and West Virginia from the Big East, and Houston from Conference USA.
TCU, in the MWC but headed to the Big East next season, makes sense geographically, but interim Big 12 Commissioner Chuck Neinas has said there is resistance among some current members about adding a school from a market the league already owns.
So how about adding a football program with a national brand? Boise State has become, like Notre Dame football and Duke basketball, one of the most polarizing teams in the nation.
Some people love the Broncos, those plucky BCS busters who knock off bullies from the traditional power conferences.
Some people hate them, with their inflated record, built on a schedule loaded with patsies.
"There are other schools that are in major markets, but don't deliver their markets in any shape or form," Benson said. "But how many television sets does Boise State turn on? It's probably greater than other programs from automatic qualifying conferences that are in major markets."
Neinas said that he doesn't like the idea of far-flung leagues, and BYU and Louisville have campuses much closer to the current Big 12 footprint than Boise.
But if the Big 12 wants to bring in a member that will create a buzz nationally and spark interest in the conference beyond its borders, it should invite the Broncos.
Or it can invite a basketball school (Louisville) in the 50th ranked TV market.
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