As Boise State offensive coordinator earlier in his career, Bryan Harsin was instrumental in the Fiesta Bowl win over Oklahoma that put the Broncos program on the map. To win the game, the Broncos made one of the most bold play calls in recent college football history, scoring a two-point conversion on a “Statue of Liberty” play to win the game in overtime.
Earlier this fall, when it looked like there would be no Mountain West football season, Bryan Harsin called for a second “Statue of Liberty” moment for the football program. In a string of September emails, he called for the school to pull its teams out of the Mountain West, and find a new home for the football program.
“Let me put it like this, 2006 fiesta bowl 2 point play,” Harsin wrote to former athletic director Curt Apsey and Boise State president Marlene Tromp, in emails obtained by The Idaho Press. “Put the ball behind our back and stand there like a statue and take the biggest risk in the most critical moment of the game or run up the middle and stay conservative. I know which one I’d pick and glad I did because it changed everything. TIME FOR STATUE LEFT PART 2! Have a great weekend and Bleed Blue!”
When it appeared that there would be no Mountain West season this year, Harsin was extremely displeased with the situation. It sounds like this has been boiling up for a while for Harsin, who in another email said he was “1000% convinced we need to make this move for football,” saying that it would be best for the University as a whole.
"I am 1000% convinced we need to make this move for football. … TIME FOR STATUE LEFT PART 2!"
— B.J. Rains (@BJRains) December 8, 2020
“I understand there are risks and budgets and travel costs that’s all real to me,” Bryan Harsin said in a Sept. 11 email. “I also know that’s exactly why Boise State is the program it is today because we took risks necessary to grow our program.”
It isn’t a huge surprise that there is a rift between the Mountain West and Boise State football. Earlier this year, Boise State sued the league over its renegotiated media rights deal. Harsin appeared to reference that suit in one of the emails about his hopes for the school to leave the conference.
“In my opinion we should be leading the way in the MW on vision, planning, decisions and testing,” Harsin continued. “Boise State is the Standard in the MW and we should take the lead on all these things and stop letting the MW control what we do. Let’s not forget they are not willing to fulfill their contractual obligation that was agreed upon when Boise State joined the MW.”
Boise State very nearly left the Mountain West less than a decade ago. In 2011, the school reached an agreement to join the Big East for football, along with San Diego State, and the Big West for other sports. It would back out and stay in the Mountain West the following year, and the Big East would wind up fracturing, with schools leaving for the ACC, Big Ten, and Big 12, and other football programs forming the AAC, while the basketball-focused school retained the name.
In the email exchanges, Apsey said that he had engaged two other leagues about jumping, neither of which has FBS-level football. One is the Big West, the other wasn’t specified by The Idaho Press indicates that is is the WCC.
“I did talk with the commissioner and for now, until they get through COVID, they are pushing the pause button,” Apsey wrote of an unnamed conference. “She continued to reference faith based, private institutions as the mission and didn’t think they were interested in expansion at this point.”
Though Apsey’s email doesn’t name the conference, the West Coast Conference primarily fields schools that fit the description Apsey outlined. It is also led by a woman, Commissioner Gloria Nevarez.
Apsey also indicated he attempted to talk to another conference — but this time was specific.
“I also have a call into Dan Butterly (Big West) but haven’t heard back yet,” he wrote.
Neither the WCC nor the Big West compete in football, but do offer most other sports Boise State competes in. A potential scenario would be Boise State moving the football program to one conference while the other sports would move to a different, more regional conference like the WCC or Big West.
It is unclear what the move for football would be in this case. Boise State could probably push to join the AAC, which has some flexibility among its teams and is not hyper-regional, and has been more competitive than the Mountain West. Joining a Power Five like the Big 12 would be the dream option, though the league balked at expanding with Boise or other G5 programs a few years ago. Independence is also a potential option. We’ve seen a few teams go it alone in recent years and find some success, including BYU and Liberty.
Of course, the Mountain West wound up reversing course and Boise State football is having a season right now. It does sound like the rift between the Broncos and the league is only growing wider though. It will be fascinating what comes of things now that this is public, and what Bryan Harsin says when he’s asked about it.
Boise State faces Wyoming on Saturday evening.