Boise State applied pressure to Big East during breakup, emails show

Big East emails obtained by show the league’s reluctance to accommodate Boise State’s demands in the days before the Broncos returned to the Mountain West.

In the process, Boise floated to Big East Commissioner Mike Aresco a potential three-game television deal with NBC built around Notre Dame games.

“[Boise State President Bob Kustra’s] preferred tactic is to still put pressure on us,” Aresco told his membership [presidents and athletic directors] in a Dec. 30 email.

Boise rejoined the Mountain West after the league restructured its revenue sharing, including a bonus system for teams playing football on national television and a 50/50 split of revenue paid for making a BCS bowl game.

New York-based attorney Joel Lulla, who consulted Boise in its dealings with the Big East, said Boise staying no longer made economic sense after original projections of $7 million per year in television money dipped to less than $2 million in December.

Boise proposed to sell its own home games while the Big East sold Boise away games. Lulla said research showed Boise’s football value justified the requests.

“Mike tried, but membership didn’t support a special arrangement,” Lulla said. “There was just no chance Boise could stay in the Big East without some sort of incentive of a bigger payout.”

Below is the email correspondence between key players: Aresco, Kustra and Lulla, along with a comment from SMU President Gerald Turner about the difficulty of pleasing Boise. The information was obtained based on a public records request of Cincinnati President Santa J. Ono from December to mid-January.

Attempts to reach Kustra on Tuesday were unsuccessful.

Dec. 26-28: Big East schedules two teleconferences with member presidents to discuss Boise State. In an email from the afternoon of the 28th, Aresco tells his membership about a cordial conversation with Lulla and that Boise anticipates attending a Jan. 11 conference meeting in Dallas. Aresco reiterates he wants to keep Boise. 

Lulla added in a conversation this week Boise considered waiting to attend the meeting but realized its needs would not be met.

Dec. 29: Lulla to Aresco via email: “I was thinking about our situation during a somewhat sleepless night last night (I’d imagine you’ve had many of those lately). If your offer of a guarantee tied to tv revenues is still on the table, rather than rejecting the concept out of hand, please send me a term sheet and we’ll take a look at it and see if there’s some common ground there.”

* Aresco replied to Lulla that “there is nothing on the table at the moment” and that he would get back to him tomorrow. Later in the day, Aresco emailed his membership that he’s ready to send Lulla this message should they approve:

“Although we would not rule out anything out-of-hand, any revenue or other approach would need to be carefully considered by our membership,” then referencing the Jan. 11 meeting as a chance to hash out details.

Aresco cautions his membership that the league is better served “not to be pressured into commitments” it hasn’t had time to fully examine.

* SMU president Gerald Turner replied: “Mike, I like this approach very much after our experience of not being able to come up with anything acceptable to them. Everything can be discussed, but they should tell us what they are expecting.”

* Later on the 29th, Aresco wrote to officials: “If membership wants to do something more for Bob, we should consider some incentive-based items. But we cannot have Bob getting too much more than the other members.”

Dec. 30: Aresco to membership revealing Boise’s plans: “I discussed with [Kustra] why last week’s ideas would not work. He again asked about doing his own TV deal, likely with NBC, and volunteered that he has had talks with them. He mentioned an NBC offer to put three games on the NBC broadcast network surrounding Notre Dame games, but then backtracked a bit as to whether NBC would really do that. I explained why we could not let him do his own TV deal. He mentioned that he was getting close with the Mountain West and might get something done soon or in the next few days. We talked about the Jan. 11 meeting.

"Bob didn’t comment one way or the other on that, but his preferred tactic is still to put pressure on us. I reiterated that we wanted him in the conference, would explore ways to compensate him reasonably, but under an arrangement that would make sense. I reminded him of the value of being in the conference in 2013, and that in the meantime things would stabilize and TV could get done for 2014 and beyond.”

* Lulla followed up with a call and said he was “trying to slow down the process.” Lulla was to talk with Kustra, then maybe propose a percentage of overall revenue desired, Aresco said.

“Although that puts all the risk on us, and likely would remain unacceptable to us, they do not seem willing to wait until we get an indication of our TV deal, which their actions have clouded,” Aresco told membership. “Of course this may be more posturing, just don’t know.”

* As for NBC, Lulla said this week the network showed interest in a Boise package but that nothing was formally negotiated.

Dec. 31: Around 2:30 p.m., Ono emailed Aresco about whether a report of Boise returning to the Mountain West was true. At 5:21, Aresco emailed membership. “Upon landing [from a flight], I received a voicemail from Bob Kustra confirming the reports,” Aresco wrote. “I will have a statement for your review shortly.”

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