BOISE, Idaho — The Idaho State Board of Education has given Boise State permission to pursue membership with the Big East Conference, a move that would mean more revenue and give the Broncos a clear path to the Bowl Championship Series.
The board voted 7-1 Thursday to give university president Bob Kustra the authority to move Boise State's football program out of the Mountain West Conference and into the Big East for the 2013 season.
Kustra has had ongoing discussions with Big East representatives, including during a campus visit by conference leaders last week. Boise State has not yet received a formal invitation to join, but Kustra told trustees he expects one to come in the next few days.
This week, Big East presidents met in Philadelphia and signed off on a plan to add more teams to a conference hit by the defections of prominent schools like Pittsburgh, Syracuse and West Virginia. To offset those losses, the league is looking to add Boise State, Navy and Air Force for football only, and SMU, Houston and Central Florida for all sports.
But Boise State's entry into the Big East carries a critical caveat.
Kustra told the state board — and board members agreed — that the formation of a Western division is essential to joining the conference. Kustra suggested that SMU, Houston, Air Force and one other western school could make up that division. He declined to identify any other western schools that are now in talks with Big East officials.
"The Big East is working on partners for a western division, with a championship game" with the winner of the eastern division, Kustra said.
This year, Boise State moved to the Mountain West Conference, leaving the Western Athletic Conference, a league the Broncos dominated for a decade in football and several other men's and women's sports.
But Kustra began entertaining other conference suitors earlier this year when the Mountain West was weakened by the losses of BYU and Utah. Kustra said Boise State would have to pay a $5 million exit fee to the MWC if it bolted in 2012, but nothing if it waits until 2013.
"It is simply not the same conference we first agreed to join," Kustra said of the MWC. "The losses dealt a blow to competition and potential for getting an automatic qualifier" for the BCS.
The MWC also can't compete with the revenue potential of Big East membership.
Kustra estimates the annual payout to Big East football members at $3.7 million, compared to the $1.9 million projected as the top payout in the Mountain West. The Big East is also in position to rework its television deal starting in 2012, creating the potential of an even bigger football payday.
Negotiations are also taking place to secure conference membership for other Boise State teams. Kustra said he hopes to solidify membership plans with at least one western conference in the next several days. He declined to identify the conference, but said geography is a key ingredient in finding a home for basketball, volleyball, tennis and other sports.