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How the new Mountain West TV deal affects Boise State and possible conference realignment

The new TV deal breaks up Boise State's long-term relationship with ESPN and could also open more cracks between the university and the Mountain West.
Credit: Steve Conner AP Images
Boise State’s George Holani breaks away from the Hawaii defense for an 11-yard gain during the Mountain West championship game Saturday, Dec. 7, 2019, in Boise, Idaho. Boise State won 31-10.

BOISE, Idaho — It's official. The Mountain West announced a new TV deal between the conference, Fox Sports, and CBS Sports - goodbye ESPN and those dreaded 8:30 p.m. kickoff times.

While the new TV deal guarantees more money for Boise State and the rest of the conference, it could also open the exit doors for the university to leave the conference.

The new TV deal runs from 2020-2021 to 2025-2026 and there's nothing concrete about conference realignment that may or may not happen in several years, but with the Broncos' season ending on a doozy, there's no better time to speculate about what this TV deal means for the Broncos' future.

Few things rule college football like conferences' TV deals, and how the importance of the Mountain West's newest deal cannot be understated. The deal affects Boise State significantly in the short-term - no more games on ESPN, possible games on Fox and CBS in the regular season, and no more kickoffs after 8 p.m. However, how this deal plays out and it could affect future conference realignment is even more interesting.

Boise State and the Mountain West's marriage has never been on solid ground (Boise State joined the conference when TCU, BYU, and Utah were all on their way out as the Western Athletic Conference was faltering, then the Broncos flirted with joining the Big East, and there was the whole kerfuffle over wearing blue uniforms on the Blue). The timing of the end of the deal could open the door for the Broncos to find greener pastures if the relationship between the two doesn't improve over the next few years.

Cracks between the university and the conference started to become more evident when Boise Stae coach Bryan Harsin called out the conference for not promoting the university and the Boise State brand enough.

"You need to take a program like Boise State and promote it," he said during the Las Vegas Bowl announcement press conference. "I see other conferences do that and I don't necessarily think we do a great job of that and I like to see it and do a better job of it. Certainly, I think those things need to be addressed and I don't think that we just stay and keep doing the same thing we've done every single year."

Mountain West Commissioner Craig Thompson hasn't been very outspoken about promoting the conference in the College Football Playoff Rankings and has leaned on conference members' records speak for themselves, which may not be the best tactic when American Athletic Conference Commissioner Michael Aresco has promoted the conference as a "Power 6," and heavily lobbies for whichever member is in the mix for the New Year's 6 bowls.

The issue of promotion and lobbying may not be enough of a reason for Boise State to jump ship, but TV deal money might be the deciding factor.

When Boise State joined the Mountain West, then announced that they would join the Big East and then decided to stay in the MWC, a major reason why Boise State stayed was that their games would be negotiated separately from the rest of the conference, which brought in more revenue for the university. Now, the latest TV deal could be the last time that the conference does this for the Broncos.

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Commissioner Thompson said, "It arguably could be the last contract we will negotiate Boise State separately."  

The news wasn't received with enthusiasm by Boise State officials. Boise State Athletic Director Curt Aspey said he had no comment on the matter and left it at that during an interview with KTIK 93.1 The Ticket - which doesn't exactly inspire confidence.

If the next TV deal doesn't have preferential treatment for the Broncos, it may be the right time to leave the conference for a Power 5 conference or the American Athletic Conference.

RELATED: Mountain West Conference signs new TV deal with Fox and CBS Sports

The new MWC TV deal runs from the 2020-21 season to the 2025-26 season, which is just after the Big 12 and the PAC-12's TV deals end in 2024. At the end of their deals, they'll likely want to add schools that would expand to their geographical footprint and add media markets so they can sign bigger TV deals with the networks. In modern college football, conference realignment will be determined by growing TV deals, rather than merit and regional ties (I'm looking at you, Rutgers of the Big 10 and your 21 wins in six seasons).

Adding to the chances of major conference realignment happening in the mid-2020s is that the current College Football Playoff deal ends in 2026. The next playoff deal could and probably should include an expanded playoff. If that were to happen, Group of 5 conferences have an incentive to expand, in order to bolster their chances of a member team making a hypothetical expanded playoff and the money that would include.

If Boise State does leave the Mountain West, it'll have three possible landing spots - the American, PAC-12, and the Big 12. 

Things could drastically change in the next few years, so all this speculation could be for naught, but the Mountain West's newest TV deal with Fox Sports and CBS Sports will affect the next major shift in college football conferences and first in over a decade.

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