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How Boise State Helped Shape the Modern American Athletic Conference

The top Group-of-Five program really would’ve solidified the American’s claim to be a Power-Six conference.

NCAA Football: Mountain West Championship-Fresno State at Boise State Brian Losness-USA TODAY Sports

In some alternate dimension, this weekend’s matchup between UConn Football and Boise State is a Big East Conference game. The Broncos agreed to join the conference in 2011 as a football-only member along with fellow Mountain West school San Diego State. But the horrors of conference realignment from 2010-13 ultimately prevented that from ever happening.

There’s no true beginning to a conference realignment story, but 2010 is as good of a place to start as any. The Big East wanted to expand from eight to ten football members and TCU joined as the first team, with a handful of other schools contending for the second spot.

Around the same time, Big East presidents voted against a nine-year, $1.4 billion deal with ESPN because they believed a more lucrative contract could be earned, similar to what the Pac-12 got with ESPN and FOX.

Boy did that backfire.

Not only did the Big East end up not getting as big of a deal as the Pac-12, their next TV contract ended up being less than the original ESPN offer.

Because of the uncertainty surrounding the conference, Syracuse and Pitt announced in September of 2011 that they would join the ACC (UConn was a front-runner to join instead of Pitt, but let’s not dig up those old wounds right now). One month later, TCU backed out to join the Big 12 and West Virginia followed them not long after.

To fill the void, the Big East announced Boise State and San Diego State as new football-only members along with Houston, SMU and UCF for all sports in December 2011. Soon thereafter, Navy also joined as a football-only member. Boise State would put all their other sports in the Western Athletic Conference while SDSU joined the Big West Conference.

While all this turbulence was going on, West Virginia was fighting the Big East’s 27-month waiting period for schools leaving. The two sued each other and eventually settled, allowing West Virginia to leave before the 2012-13 season.

Down a football member earlier than expected, the Big East tried to get Boise State to join the conference a year earlier than agreed upon, but the Broncos rejected the idea due to penalties from both the Mountain West and WAC. In response, Temple re-joined the conference as a football-only school in 2012 with full membership in 2013.

The bleeding continued for the Big East, with Rutgers and Louisville both bolting in November of 2012. The conferenced replaced those two schools by adding Tulane in all sports and East Carolina as a football-only member.

With the quality of basketball decreasing with the addition of new members, the league’s non-FBS football schools — the Catholic Seven — announced in December of that year they were also splitting from the Big East.

The month prior, reports surfaced about Boise State and San Diego State having second thoughts about joining. They were supposedly in talks to rejoin the Mountain West in an attempt to earn the Group-of-Five’s BCS bid — then held by the failing Big East.

On New Year’s Eve 2012, Boise State officially announced they were staying in the Mountain West after the league agreed to sell the rights to their home games in a different package than the conference’s deal with CBS Sports Network, along with a few other perks. They also added a piece to their offer sheet that if the Mountain West offered membership to another school in the next year, the first offer must be to San Diego State.

San Diego State’s contract with the Big East had a provision that if there were no other members west of the Rocky Mountains, the Aztecs could leave without penalty. Not long after, SDSU re-joined the Mountain West.

The loss of Boise State and San Diego State led to the Big East/American upgrading East Carolina from a football-only member to all sports while also adding Tulsa.

While adding two teams from out west certainly would’ve added significant travel to an already-spread out conference, both Boise State and SDSU are quality programs and would’ve provided significant value as football members.

Instead, the American got stuck with East Carolina and Tulsa — both clear failures to this point.

At the time, the Pirates made sense as a football-only member since they made a bowl for seven out of eight seasons before they joined in 2014, including a 10-3 campaign the year prior. However, they’ve struggled in the American and fell to 3-9 last season. In addition, their basketball programs are historically weak, with just two NCAA Tournament appearance to each program’s record.

Meanwhile Tulsa...well, it’s Tulsa. That doesn’t need any more explanation.

While the AAC is already the top non-power conference, replacing ECU and Tulsa with Boise State and San Diego State may have really pushed the league over the top to become a true Power-Six conference.

But ultimately, like everything else that happened to the Big East/American from 2010-14, everything that could go wrong did go wrong. So instead of this weekend’s game between UConn and Boise State counting towards the conference schedule, it’s just a stretched-out home-and-home series.