June 11, 2010

 

BOISE, Idaho (AP) -Boise State on Friday accepted an invitation to join the Mountain West Conference as the two-time Fiesta Bowl winner seeks out a league that's a better launching pad into lucrative bowl games.

Boise State, now with the Western Athletic Conference, would become the Mountain West Conference's 10th member. The move would be effective July 1, 2011.

"Boise State scored - big time," Boise State president Bob Kustra said at a celebratory news conference.

The announcement was part of an ongoing conference shuffle nationwide, where leagues like the Pac-10 have lured Colorado and Nebraska is seeking membership in the Big Ten.

As Boise State aims to secure a clearer path to Bowl Championship Series games worth millions, Mountain West commissioner Craig Thompson said his league is boosting its strength by adding a football program that's captured the nation's imagination, and prime-time television exposure. The league's main goal is to make a better case to become the seventh college football conference awarded an automatic BCS postseason berth.

"It's my No. 1 goal, and I think I share it with members," Thompson said during a conference call. "We are going to try to challenge, and try to position ourselves as the seventh automatic qualifying conference."

In its two BCS bowl appearances so far, Boise State beat TCU, a Mountain West member, in the Fiesta Bowl in January and it scored an 43-42 overtime upset over Oklahoma in the 2007 Fiesta Bowl.

Boise State has also dominated the WAC, compiling a 49-4 record and winning three WAC titles in four years under Bronco coach Chris Petersen.

Thompson said Colorado's Pac-10 jump on Thursday was the catalyst for the Mountain West to move quickly to grab Boise State.

He added there's still discussion among Mountain West university presidents on whether the league should remain at 10 schools, or expand to 12 or even 16, to boost its BCS chances.

"This is a game of musical chairs," Thompson said. "People want to have a seat when the music stops."

He expects to readjust his conference's television package with CBS Sports and Versus to reflect BSU's inclusion starting in 2011. The conference is midway through a 10-year, $120 million deal with the networks and Boise State athletic director Gene Bleymaier said he expects all 17 of his school's athletic disciplines to benefit.

For instance, 16 to 18 basketball games could be televised in 2011, compared to just a single game during the 2009-10 season, he said.

"Your reputation, your prestige, the growth of programs, how people perceive you - we take another step up," Bleymaier said.

Karl Benson, the WAC commissioner and a former collegiate baseball player at Boise State, said he was disappointed in his alma mater's departure but aimed to pick up the pieces and rebound.

"It's not the first time a school has left the WAC and each time it has happened, a school or group of schools have stepped up and performed at a level that brings the WAC national credibility," Benson said.

Kustra said the invitation, backed unanimously by Mountain West university presidents, shows Boise State has improved in both athletics and academic achievement, which he said is now on par with other schools in the conference. Another advantage for Boise State will be travel time. In the WAC, the team travels to Hawaii and Louisiana.

The Mountain West Conference is more concentrated. Boise State joins the Air Force Academy, Brigham Young, Colorado State, New Mexico, San Diego State, TCU, UNLV, Utah and Wyoming.

"I'm delighted we can offer our students-athletes, coaches and fans the very best competition with the most reasonable travel schedules," Kustra said, declining to weigh in on whether he thinks the Mountain West should pursue further additions.

But Dan Hawkins, head coach at Boise State until jumping to Colorado in 2006, said he doesn't think the Mountain West is done adding teams.

"We'll see how that whole thing shakes out and what happens to other teams in the Big 12," Hawkins said. "There might be some other teams from ... the Sun Belt, the Big 12, or somebody melded in there to complete the roster."

Thompson all but ruled out adding more teams from the WAC.

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AP Sports Writer Pat Graham contributed from Boulder, Colo. AP Writer Elizabeth White contributed from Salt Lake City.