The Mountain West Conference - the nest where Utah State will land in 2013 - just got a bit cozier by retaining Boise State, arguably its strongest national representative.
The Broncos have decided to remain in the MWC for 2013 and beyond, reneging on an earlier agreement to join the Big East next summer. The announcement gives the conference 11 football-playing schools for next season, which both firms up the membership in the conference and possibly positions the MWC to take in a 12th member for a football championship game.
Boise State has been a consistent winner in the past decade and as a MWC member for the past two seasons. The Broncos were lured back in by the MWC's restructured deal with CBS Sports that allows the conference to sell packages to national networks and offers bonuses for national games.
Theoretically, Boise State could have more lucrative deals on its home games or other high-profile contests. That, with the draw of geographic rivalries, was enough to keep the Broncos in the fold.
"We felt stable about 10 teams, but we feel a lot more stable now that we'll have 11," MWC commissioner Craig Thompson said in a conference call on Monday afternoon. "We'll have to see how we feel if that's the right number."
The move is a definite boon to Utah State, which now has a potential burgeoning rivalry less than five hours away. Boise State's national profile presents the possibility of TV bonuses for the Aggies' match-ups with the Broncos.
In all, athletic director Scott Barnes said, this is what Utah State had hoped for in upgrading to the Mountain West next year.
"It's another step to adding value to our conference," Barnes said. "It's a natural rivalry that allows our fans and students to travel. That's what has been lost in realignment: being able to compete against like institutions. It's good to keep our rivalries in place in our region."
There is a strong possibility that the MWC is not done adding, or keeping, programs. The obvious odd duck out is San Diego State, which will be joining a diminished Big East next season if it stays pat. The Aztecs would lose their nearest rival in Boise State, so talks between SDSU and the MWC could be heating up as the new year gets going.
Thompson mentioned that he had talked to as many as five schools about joining the Mountain West in the past 24 hours, although it was unclear just how interested some of those schools actually are.
But Monday's announcement was an unmistakeable sign that the Mountain West is dealing from a newfound position of strength following the restructuring in its television contract. And with it, Utah State's future is much more secure as well.
Barnes said it there was "a natural logic" to the idea that the MWC could have two divisions and a championship game if it brings in another member. It could help establish the MWC as perhaps the strongest non-auto bid conference in the Football Bowl Subdivision.
"It's about having 10 members who are on the same page and shows our focus as a conference," Barnes said. "We all want the same thing: stability and growth."
— Kyle Goon