Opportunity ripe to grow

The phrase dates to an old proverb of which a modern expression first appeared in 1931.

It is defined as ruthless competition.

Dog eat dog.

Or, in relation to the lunacy that has engulfed conference realignment in collegiate athletics, what Boise State did in spurning the Big East to remain in the Mountain West.

I don’t blame the Broncos. Not for a blue-and-orange second. They merely followed a script that has been the cornerstone of schools shifting from one league to another, making decisions on what each believes is best for its institution while getting the sweetest deal possible along the way.

If others suffer, well, so be it.

Boise State never in its history – and perhaps never again – held the sort of leverage that allowed it to play the Big East off the Mountain West, and in the end the latter agreed to meet certain demands set forth by the Broncos when it comes to their football program and the league’s new TV contract.

In other words, the Mountain West blinked first and was smart to do so.

“Ultimately, we were unwilling to do the things (Boise State) wanted,” Big East commissioner Mike Aresco said. “Our membership was unwilling to make the deal the Mountain West made with them.”

Which leaves the Mountain West with 11 football members, searching for a 12th and perhaps more. One way or the other, you figure it will reach an even number, where it can split divisions and offer a conference football championship.

There is no question which program it should pursue hardest, but will Brigham Young want to return?

First things first. ESPN reported Wednesday that as part of Boise State’s contract with the Mountain West, the conference must offer membership to San Diego State before any other school, that the Aztecs are to be given an “exclusive window to have their fate decided by the conference before Jan. 31.”

That fate remains unknown today, because San Diego State doesn’t have enough support from Mountain West presidents.

Call it childish. Call it some sort of weird sense of payback. The Mountain West’s views toward Boise State and San Diego State are drastically different, mostly because of the Broncos’ nationally recognized football program but also because many within the league believed the Aztecs and their athletic director, Jim Sterk, were far too arrogant when jumping to the Big East.

Sterk held news conferences to re-emphasize his school’s allegiance to the move while you heard little to nothing from Boise State the past several months. That sort of thing.

Memo to those typically uneducated presidents when it comes to athletics: Get over it. Boise State and San Diego State were sold a Big East picture of millions of dollars annually in TV rights and easier access to the Bowl Championship Series cartel, critical things the Mountain West couldn’t provide. In a college world dominated by football and the almighty dollar it generates, they did what countless others would have if offered.

But once all that disintegrated, once the Big East began to resemble the Sunset Region minus Bishop Gorman, the Broncos and Aztecs re-evaluated options, which any program would do in a similar situation.

If the Mountain West, however, decides 12 is enough and the Aztecs don’t ultimately accept whatever terms are outlined to remain in the league, BYU should be given the first, second and fifth call to be that next piece to a puzzle far more attractive now than it was before Boise State remained in place.

BYU owns the sort of national brand other schools the Mountain West might be interested in don’t, proven by that eight-year TV contract with ESPN that is set to pay the Cougars nearly $4 million annually through 2018. San Diego State wouldn’t get such a deal. Southern Methodist or Houston wouldn’t. Not even Boise State would.

The Mountain West needs to hear “No” from BYU before moving on, and perhaps several times. BYU is that lightning rod where you love the Cougars or hate them but accept – for many, begrudgingly – their relevancy and national following.

I would push the number of members to 14 by adding BYU (if you can get it), San Diego State and SMU or Houston, the latter three bringing the sort of TV market size conferences covet.

A huge opportunity is here for the Mountain West to solidify itself as the nation’s fifth-best football conference and perhaps better in given years.

Dog eat dog.

The Mountain West has a chance to go from a basset hound to mastiff overnight.

Let’s hope its presidents are smart enough to realize it.

Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ed Graney can be reached at egraney@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4618. He can be heard from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday on “Gridlock,” ESPN 1100 and 98.9 FM. Follow him on Twitter: @edgraney.

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