MW A Mess, Questions Start With The Boss

BY MIKE PRATER
THE IDAHO PRESS

There’s a simple but critical saying that’s constantly repeated inside the Boise State football complex, the same one said inside the walls of most successful businesses.

Do your job.

Boise State football is being jerked around these days, and there’s suddenly a horde of what’s-happening-in-the-future questions hovering above the program, because it appears that not everybody is doing their jobs.

Talking to you, Mountain West Commissioner Craig Thompson.

In case you haven’t heard, Boise State has launched an unprecedented legal battle against the Mountain West. Technically, the 17-page document that went public last week is a “Complaint And Demand For Jury Trial.’’

Essentially, it’s the initial filing for a potential lawsuit, one that could pay millions in damages, if it gets that far.

Boise State has a contract with the Mountain West — with no expiration date — that says TV rights to home football games must be negotiated separately from the rest of the league. That right also comes with an annual $1.8 million bonus. Forever money that no one else in the conference receives … or frankly deserves.

The Mountain West recently signed a new six-year TV/media rights contract with CBS and Fox. Boise State is getting its $1.8 million bonus every year for the next six years.

After that, Thompson said, there will be no special contracts for Boise State home games. And no more bonus money.

Hence, the breach of contract, and the threat of a lawsuit.

All because other league presidents kept twisting Thompson’s brain to make the special treatment go away, despite the contract with no expiration date.

And all because Thompson got caught in the middle — and failed to do his job.

In this same column two weeks ago, I questioned whether Boise State President Marlene Tromp or Athletic Director Curt Apsey were doing their jobs. Did they cave to league peers as the new contract was being negotiated, or play any role in the Mountain West’s ultimatum?

None of the three are talking.

This is a developing story.

The 17-page legal complaint sheds light on the details — from Boise State’s perspective. And it’s Thompson, the only commissioner in the 21-year history of the Mountain West, who comes off looking like a rookie negotiator.

And, much to their credit, Tromp and Apsey have come strong. Drawn the line in the sand. Quickly. Swiftly. And with authority — when the sense of urgency really isn’t there. They aren’t messing around.

The trouble started in early December, according to the legal complaint, when Thompson met with Tromp and Apsey in Boise. He said Boise State and its football program was the “driving force’’ behind more TV money for the league from Fox. The document claims Thompson “understood why Boise State expected to, and should, receive more money than the other member institutions, even double the amount.’’

Together, the three developed a strategy to take to the rest of the Mountain West presidents for a decisive meeting later that month. Boise State was going to keep its bonus money, and ask for even more — a bold risk because it comes off as greedy.

Two weeks later, at that meeting in Phoenix to take final votes, Thompson did the exact opposite, according to the legal document. He sided with the other presidents and presented eight alternative plans for “phasing out and ultimately ending’’ Boise State’s special treatment.

No warning to Boise State.

No communication.

No working together.

One big division.

One blindside hatchet job.

Actually, Thompson wasn’t doing his job at all.

And Boise State called Thompson’s bluff with a sudden and shocking legal threat that is already awkward — and could turn ugly.

Now there is talk of Boise State football joining the American Athletic Conference, replacing the departing University of Connecticut. Yes, the East Coast. There’s also an AAC podcaster who said Boise State has been in contact with the Big Sky and West Coast conferences about its other sports.

Both bad ideas, right now. Until further information becomes available. It’s too early. Too emotional.

For Boise State football coach Bryan Harsin, the two most important things that fuel his program, by far the most valuable commodity in the Mountain West: Exposure and money.

Can the AAC provide more money and exposure to Boise State than the Mountain West?

Not convinced.

Show me the money.

Show me the exposure.

The details are important — and right now we don’t know any details.

Today, it’s best for Boise State to remain in the Mountain West, where it’s owed $1.8 million in annual bonus money forever. And where it can continue to dominate the league, as it has for years.

The Mountain West can’t afford to lose Boise State.

And Boise State has no place to move its football program, and certainly doesn’t want to ditch its other sports into lower-level leagues.

This is a mess that didn’t need to happen.

Thanks Commissioner, who appears to have been caught off guard with Boise State’s legal complaint, filed in Ada County District Court. Like two squabbling brothers, Boise State and the Mountain West released a joint statement after the complaint went public:

“Last week Boise State filed a complaint regarding media rights against the Mountain West Conference, however, that action alone does not formally begin a lawsuit. The University and the Mountain West are currently in discussions in hopes of bringing this matter to a resolution without litigation.’’

Translation: Thompson has to go back to his presidents and ask: “Now what?’’

Great leadership.

Great insight.

Great vision.

Can the relationship be saved?

Depends on how well everybody does their jobs.

Or not … Craig Thompson.

Mike Prater is the Idaho Press sports columnist and co-hosts Idaho Sports Talk on KTIK 93.1 FM every Monday-Friday from 3-6 p.m. and Bronco Game Night after every Boise State football game on KTIK and KBOI 670 AM. He can be found on Twitter @MikeFPrater and can be reached at mikefprater@gmail.com.

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