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Senior College Football Columnist

Big East-bound Boise State teeters as failed network gets second life

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Remember all that stuff about the wild-eyed grab for network money causing conference realignment? Here's a twist: A failed network may keep Boise State in a conference.

On the eve of Boise's final football game as a Mountain West member, CBSSports.com reported Friday night that the Mountain West had restructured its contract with primary rights-holder CBS. In doing so, the conference landed the most significant blow to date in becoming the dominant league below the BCS (or power) conference level.

All because the MountainWest Sports Network failed. Started in 2006, The Mtn., as it's called, was the first conference-centric network of its kind. At its height it claimed to be in 13 million homes. That was ultimately not enough for a far-flung conference below the BCS level that was having trouble retaining membership. The network folded for good on May 31 -- a joint venture of the conference, CBS Sports Network and NBC Universal.

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However, the MWC was able to reinvent itself Friday because of some loose ends left over from that shuttering. While details are sketchy, at least part of the restructuring was a "make good" on The Mtn.'s folding. One source wouldn't go as far as to say litigation between the two parties was possible (CBS/Mountain West), but did say smoothing over possible entanglements could have been a consideration in doing Friday's deal.

CBS gets priority picks off the top of the MWC roster of games, about five. But the restructuring also allows the MWC to market games itself in packages to other networks, most likely ESPN and NBC Sports Network among others. The Mountain West will start a digital network, still a platform to be monetized fully by virtually all major conferences in the future. That will produce more revenue and more exposure for the conference.

Remember, the Big East has none of that certainty in football at the moment.

The MWC/CBS deal still has three years to run, with the 10-team conference getting $12 million per year. (For now, Boise State and San Diego State are due to leave next year, replaced by Utah State and San Jose State.) The conference's licensing of those games will allow it to make more money and possibly lure Boise back into the league.

The school has a huge decision to make, and quickly. Boise must decide if it wants to stay in the Big East -- it officially joins July 1 -- or come back to the Mountain West. The Broncos have resided in the MWC the past two seasons. Either decision promises to create more conference realignment upheaval.

Both the Big East and Mountain West have football schedules ready for the 2013 season. Typically, those schedules are forwarded to networks in January so they can start making priority picks and scheduling moves.

If Boise stays with the Big East, the Broncos will be -- theoretically -- playing football games everywhere from Connecticut to New Orleans to San Diego. It will be in a Big East that, for now, has two members openly campaigning to get out of the Big East -- UConn and Cincinnati. Most of all -- unless we've all missed on this one -- Boise will be making peanuts. A Big East football league could be worth as little as $40 million per year in what is now projected to be a 15-team league in 2015.

On Friday night, one conference official texted, "Boise will end up back in the MW."

Chaos looms. Boise is considered the cornerstone of a new Big East because of its brand recognition. Plus, its Cinderella history of competing for national championship berths and playing in two BCS bowls in the last seven seasons. Boise president Bob Kustra guided the Big East move, but there is widespread speculation that coach Chris Petersen favors the Mountain West.

It seems fitting the school faces a huge gamble playing what is, for now, its final game as a Mountain West member Saturday against Washington in the Las Vegas Bowl.

CBSSports.com reported this week the Big East had reached out to UNLV and Fresno. That seemed like a backdoor move to round up Big East travel partners for San Diego State and Boise. Now it seems unlikely UNLV and Fresno would bolt. The Mountain West has a contract locked down for three years. With Boise in the fold, that contract would be worth even more. Again, the Big East has nothing at the moment.

Without Boise shoring up the conference, six Conference USA schools that have jumped to the Big East would have no home. C-USA already has fortified itself with 14 members in the future. While the likes of SMU and Houston would have some worth, it's hard to tell if C-USA would take them all back and grow to 20.

Fourteen months ago, the Mountain West and Conference USA actually announced an "association" in order to chase a single BCS bid. With Friday's move, the likelihood of that structure reemerging is all but dead.

Navy is an independent that could stay that way. It is due to join the Big East in 2015. But what about UConn and Cincinnati? Both are potentially as valuable to the Big East as they are dangerous, having expressed ACC love. They weren't included when the Catholic 7 broke off as a basketball-only league.

Boise holds the future of all those schools in its hands, all because a network didn't work. While the money doesn't promise to be huge for either league, security is huge at the moment. And the Mountain West has it.

College football is waiting for the next move by Boise -- and the Big East.


Anyone in need of a credential from all the BCS title games? Dennis Dodd has them. In three decades in the business, he's covered everything from the Olympics to Stanley Cup to conference realignment. Just get him on campus in a press box in the fall. His heart lies with college football.
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