PROVO — Boise State football, BYU feels your pain.
This week, the Mountain West’s football juggernaut program Boise State filed a lawsuit against the league for canceling a $1.8 million bonus for the Broncos at the end of the new TV contract that was announced earlier this month.
It was this bonus, and the rights to negotiate its home game TV deals, that propelled Boise State to terminate its brief stop for a cup of coffee with the Big East and join the MWC back in 2011.
According to reports, two MWC directors voted to nix Boise State’s sweet deal and notice was given to the Broncos who took it as a slap on the hide. Two directors (university presidents or chancellors) wanted it to go into effect immediately, to kill BSU’s favored status dangled as a carrot nine years ago.
Back in the day, BYU, under the late LaVell Edwards, was the mule team that pulled the WAC around. And then when it came to TV, it held the same role in the MWC. BYU found it an uphill battle to cash in on the so-called pulling of more of its share. In fact, many times, it was fellow league members who, out of spite or jealousy, went out of their way to vote against the Cougars’ athletic program.
BYU had a similar spat with the MWC’s TV partners when the league was formed in 1998 and a seven-year ESPN deal turned into a seven-year pact with the College Sports Television Network in August 2004. That pact morphed into a partnership with Comcast and The mtn. network.
You might remember the league calling out fans to pepper DirecTV with phone calls, emails and letters to get The mtn. included on its platform. No other league fanbase answered that call with more volume and vigor than BYU. In Las Vegas, San Diego and Albuquerque, the campaign hardly made a blip in the effort.
BYU asked, and was promised, some concessions, including rebroadcast rights of home games. MWC television partners then reneged on the promise.
Nobody really came to BYU’s defense when it signaled the alarm that this promise was broken.
In Boise State’s case, the $1.8 million bonus and considerations were put in a contract in 2011 as part of its entry agreement. And now, the MWC has killed it. Negotiations are ongoing for a remedy.
“Boise State’s decision to join the conference was predicated on a number of negotiated provisions, including the right to separately negotiate material terms of media rights relating to our home games,” Boise State announced this week in a statement distributed to the media. “This is stated in our conference agreement and cannot be changed by any vote of the membership or conflicting agreement. We will not support any change to this provision and are in the process of weighing our options to move forward.”
There is little question Boise State’s TV value to the networks (Fox and CBS) were used in negotiating the league’s new TV deal. Boise State officials claim this was confirmed and underlined in a meeting with league commissioner Craig Thompson in Boise during the Mountain West championship game.
But when Thompson took the deal to the MWC directors, some balked, calling for complete equality in future TV money. Right now, each MWC team will make more money than ever and Boise State will make even more. But at the end of this new deal, the Boise State bonus disappears and the feeling for the Broncos to be treated equally and just get over it is growing in the MWC.
The thing is, not all leagues have members who bring in the same revenue and exposure. That’s why folks in the SEC hate Alabama, people are jealous of Southern Cal in the Pac-12 and Ohio State is resented in the Big Ten.
BYU saw plenty of this in both the Western Athletic Conference and the Mountain West, where it was a charter member of both leagues.
Many times, I’m reminded of issues that came up and if it benefited BYU, league presidents or athletic directors would vote it down, often 10 to 1. This, despite BYU football winning 18 WAC titles and a national championship, having the largest fan base and largest football and basketball facilities that routinely had the best attendance figures.
Many of the old WAC members are current MWC members with the same bias and issues, claims of arrogance or pride. And that may be the case. But sadly, those distractors could not buy, create or negotiate what others earned as a brand.
This same pettiness spilled over to awards and recognition for weekly honors in the old WAC. Despite BYU quarterbacks going on NCAA record-busting streaks, they’d sometimes earn WAC player-of-the-week honors just once or twice in the season so the league could spread it around.
In 1985, when Robbie Bosco finished third in the Heisman Trophy balloting, he was named second-team All-WAC behind an Air Force QB who had a very good year and both schools finished as co-champions. I guess the feeling was that a QB on a returning national championship team had had his turn.
In the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s, BYU would consistently appear in bowl games. This included seven consecutive appearances in the Holiday Bowl from 1978 to 1984 and seven bowls in eight years from 1989 to the 1996 Cotton Bowl. This was during a time when there were far fewer bowl opportunities. The league’s agreement at the time was to give every league member an equal share of the bowl revenue.
Trouble is, BYU would go to the bowl, earn the money for everyone, and then go in the hole $250,000 to $300,000 for the effort after covering expenses. This, while New Mexico or Wyoming, which never won anything, sat at home by the fire waiting for their bowl checks.
The time came when BYU told the league presidents that would end. Unless a more equitable division of bowl money was enacted so bowl teams had expenses covered, BYU would just stay home.
So, yes Boise State, BYU knows your frustration.
That’s why independence was not just a choice, but perhaps the only choice back in 2010.