It may be time for San Diego State Athletics to take the school to the next level.
News has come out recently that Boise State is considering leaving the Mountain West Conference by the end of the current media deal (which ends in 2026.) How would this affect San Diego State, and what can SDSU do to take advantage of the situation?
How does it affect San Diego State?
Boise State leaving would hurt the Mountain West Conference. Boise State has a good, but not great, basketball team, but their football team is ranked in the Top 25 every year. Success drives ratings, which drives money. Boise State leaving means less money for other MWC schools. In a field where the power conferences are already getting as much as 10 times the money for media rights alone, staying with the Mountain West Conference, as Boise leaves, could be a big mistake.
SDSU has done alright for itself. The football team has appeared in ten straight bowl games and seven out of the last ten March Madness tournaments. The men’s basketball team has had an unbelievable amount of success, highlighted by a couple of Sweet 16 appearances. As of this writing, the Aztecs are the last undefeated basketball team in the nation and ranked #4 in the AP Poll. Despite all that, San Diego State doesn’t seem to have the same money-making appeal as Boise State. Therefore, San Diego State should look to make some moves of its own.
A Little History
San Diego State made a pitch to join the Big 12 back in 2016. The Aztecs were among 17 schools given consideration but didn’t make the final round of cuts. The pitch was based on the size of San Diego and its media market, athletic and academic success, and adding the Pacific Time Zone for programming, among other things. No official word was given as to why San Diego State was turned down, but we can make some educated guesses. The points presented among SDSU all seem like things a conference would care about, but it appears that SDSU just doesn’t bring as much to the table in terms of money and market as we’d all like to think. So how can SDSU strengthen its proposal?
Before getting into the nuts and bolts, let’s preface by saying this is all hypothetical, much of it is borderline unrealistic.
It’s just what I would try to do if I were the Athletic Director at SDSU.
What can San Diego State do to improve their position?
So far, we’ve established that SDSU needs to try and leave the Mountain West, even more urgently than usual, and that they may not have enough cache to do it on their own. That’s where Boise State enters the picture. Boise State may or may not have the cache to go to another conference on their own accord. Generally speaking, if a conference is looking to expand, they’ll want to add an even number of teams, which means if Boise intends to leave, it will be beneficial to them to have a partner. So if I’m the Athletic Director for SDSU, I’m getting on the phone and convincing Boise State that any bid they make is strengthened by adding SDSU to the mix.
The pitches for both schools are likely pretty similar, but they’d benefit from the pitch being greater than the sum of its parts. Boise would add a northern fan base, SDSU, a southern fan base. Boise would add a Mountain Time Zone; SDSU, the Pacific Time Zone. Both schools offer strong athletic programs, and they complement each other well. At the very least, this is something SDSU should look into. Try to convince Boise it would benefit them as well. It’s not so far out of reach, both teams almost left for the Big East a few years ago, until Boise State decided to stay with the Mountain West, and San Diego State decided to stay as well. There is a history of cooperation in this regard.
It is possible that SDSU and Boise State joining forces would be enough to convince another, more established conference to take them. It might convince a conference like the American Athletic Conference. Make no mistake, moving to the American would be a step up in terms of money gained from media rights, and the AAC could negotiate for more by adding more media markets and scheduling games across more time zones. If I were the Athletic Director, though, I wouldn’t want to stop there. I would want to shoot for the Big 12 and use the AAC as a backup. The Big 12 has already turned down SDSU at least once, and adding Boise State to the equation makes the deal more likable, but does it do enough to get the Big 12 to budge? Probably not. What program might do that?
BYU has a national following thanks to the LDS Community. They have done well for themselves as an independent school on football. It takes a large following to be able to pull that off, and they’ve done it. Their basketball team is stuck in the West Coast Conference, and you can be sure they’d like an improvement in that regard. I can’t speak for the academics at the school, but the athletics have been solid, if not great, and the viewers and money they could bring in would be the main draw. Any conference BYU joins would instantly gain many viewers across the country every week, which is the main goal here. BYU would strengthen the position of SDSU and Boise State by providing more viewers in both the Mountain and Pacific Time Zones. BYU is likely the program the Big 12 would consider the most profitable out of any program not already in a power conference. So if I were calling the shots, I would try to convince BYU to enter the pitch as well.
Why would BYU join the Big 12, though? Well, each Big 12 school gets about $36.5 million a year from media rights alone. The thought and hope would be that adding programs the caliber of SDSU, Boise State, and BYU would increase that number. BYU has done well, but have they done that well? What about extra money from multiple March Madness bids as well? There are many perks to being part of a Power 5 conference, and it’s hard to imagine BYU turning that down if there’s a legitimate shot at it. The AAC would definitely take a package of SDSU, Boise St, and BYU. They’d be fools not to. The problem there would be- does the AAC offer enough for BYU? Probably not. Especially with their media contract locked in until 2029. So BYU would be a Big 12 or bust proposition.
I believe that a pitch of SDSU, Boise State, and BYU would entice the Big 12, and would at least get some serious consideration. We run into the problem of adding an odd number of teams again, though. The Big 12 isn’t likely to kick anyone out, so we’d need to find a fourth team. I’m not sure if there’s a fourth team that offers the types of benefits that the teams I’ve mentioned so far do. Either the market is smaller, or the athletics or academics aren’t as strong, or both. Let’s go through some possibilities, though.
First off is Gonzaga. Gonzaga’s issue is that is doesn’t have a football program, which the Big 12 would likely want. Gonzaga would bring obvious benefits, a successful basketball team, profitable private school, another strong Pacific Time Zone presence, etc. If the Big 12 could be convinced to add a football-only school, it could work. Someone like Hawaii, if only to add another time zone to the mix. It’s a stretch, but the possibility of getting Gonzaga requires creative thinking.
Saint Mary’s presents a similar problem with less of an upside.
Fresno State could give more California viewership and help secure the Pacific Time Zone, but the raw numbers of extra viewers likely aren’t enough to tip the scales here.
New Mexico is in a close enough location, but once again likely doesn’t provide the viewership required to be genuinely considered. Wyoming, Colorado State, Utah State all provide similar problems with regards to viewership, the difficulty of travel, lack of tradition, etc.
UNLV would be an interesting option. They haven’t been the powerhouse they once were, but the legacy is still there. There are a lot of homes with TVs in Vegas. It would add another Pacific Time Zone program. It would reduce travel for teams of the Big 12 conference (assuming they split up into two divisions, an east and a west). It would be a tricky sell, to be sure, but UNLV likely offers the best chance out of schools that aren’t already in a power conference.
The best bet, but also the hardest to convince to join, would be a PAC 12 school. Probably either Utah or Stanford. Both have good football and basketball programs and would add similar aspects that the other schools add as well, acting as a force multiplier. The Big 12 currently has a more significant Media Contract than the PAC-12, so it’s not out of the question for them to want to jump ship, especially if other nearby schools are doing it too.
So the overall proposal to the Big 12 would be SDSU, Boise State, BYU, and either Stanford or Utah. You convince the conference based on all the extra viewers they’d be gaining and the extra time slots they could book games in. You persuade them that travel isn’t as bad because you’re adding four schools that all already travel to each other, and while they’re a little ways away from Texas, you convince them that the extra time slots are worth it. They fly charter jets anyway. You assure them that all these athletic programs are already stable and will only get better with power conference resources at their disposal. You throw the farm at them and see what happens.
If that doesn’t work, you take your proposal to the AAC. BYU likely is no longer interested, and any PAC 12 team is also no longer interested, so you cut ties with them and take only SDSU and Boise to the AAC. Adding teams like SDSU and Boise State football to programs like Houston and UCF would almost guarantee that the group of five invite to a New Years 6 bowl would be from the AAC, which would be hard to turn down. Adding a couple of good basketball programs would add more bids in the tournament, which also results in more money, making it even harder to turn down.
It’s possible the AAC would take Boise on their own or Boise and another school, which is why it would be imperative to get them on the phone now and convince them that their odds are better with SDSU. It wouldn’t be easy to do, but if done right, then everyone wins.
That would be my plan if I were the SDSU Athletic Director. I’d put together a mega proposal for a power conference, rather than only selling the merits of my current school. The Big 12 would still be a long shot, but I feel pretty confident that the AAC bid would work. Each AAC school gets about $7.5 million from media rights, compared to the Mountain West’s new deal of $3.5 million, so it would be a step up. And the AAC would be in a better position to negotiate in the future.
In the end, SDSU needs to find a way out of the Mountain West. It’s been true for a while, and the potential of Boise State leaving makes it more urgent.
I believe this type of proposal gives SDSU the best shot at accomplishing that.