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Boise State football coach wants out of Mountain West

| December 10, 2020 1:10 AM


Idaho Statesman

Boise State football coach Bryan Harsin told school leaders in September that he wants out of the Mountain West — with the COVID-19 shutdown of the fall season as the latest piece of his argument.

Harsin emailed President Marlene Tromp and then-Athletic Director Curt Apsey on Sept. 11 to express frustration with the Mountain West’s decision to postpone the 2020 football season and, he wrote, reiterate his argument that the football program needs a new home.

The Idaho Statesman obtained the email Tuesday through a public records request. The email was obtained first by BoiseDev.

Harsin wrote that the “conference conversation” needs to be addressed again, “and for as long as it takes to put a plan together to move.”

“NOW is the time! The longer it takes, the longer we stay in the MW,” Harsin wrote. “I am 1,000% convinced we need to make this move for football, and if that means other sports, too, in the long run it will be what’s best for the university. I understand there are risks and budgets and travel costs. That’s all real to me. I also know that’s exactly why Boise State is the program it is today, because we took risks necessary to grow our program.”

While college football conferences around the country struggled with whether or not to hold a fall season during the pandemic, Harsin was in favor of playing by any means necessary. The Mountain West had postponed the fall season because of the virus a little over a month before.

“We should be trying to play as soon as we can,” Harsin said in the email. “If the California schools can’t go, then replace them with BYU or whoever else we need so we can play soon and let’s start making moves.”

The Mountain West announced its plan for an eight-game regular season on Sept. 24, but travel restrictions in California complicated matters for Fresno State, San Diego State and San Jose State. The Spartans are still dealing with restrictions after a ban on all contact sports in Santa Clara County is forcing them to move their regular-season finale against Nevada to Sam Boyd Stadium in Las Vegas.

Boise State declined to make Harsin available for comment on Tuesday.

Tromp said in a statement provided to the Idaho Statesman that Boise State intends to remain in the Mountain West, but that doesn’t mean the Broncos will be in the conference forever.

“We intend to continue to build our athletic program and excel in the Mountain West. We will strive to be our very best academically and athletically and will stay laser-focused on our collective efforts to achieve those ends,” Tromp said. “College athletics today is a very fluid environment. As we’ve said in the past, it is our responsibility to continue to look for opportunities to advance Boise State athletics and to compete at the very highest levels. We respect our colleagues in the Mountain West and are proud to be members of the league.”

In his email, Harsin made it clear he wasn’t happy with what he depicted as Mountain West Commissioner Craig Thompson’s silence on a call the conference held sometime after the season was postponed, or with the influence Boise State wields among conference members.

Boise State has won two of the past three Mountain West football championship games, and the Broncos lost in overtime in the third. They are likely to play in the game again this month.

“In my opinion, we should be leading the way in the MW on vision, planning, decisions and testing,” Harsin wrote. “Boise State is the Standard in the MW, and we should take the lead in 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.”

He was alluding to a lawsuit Boise State filed against the conference, claiming breach of contract after the conference’s latest TV contract included plans to end the Broncos’ annual $1.8 million bonus, which was negotiated into the contract when the program decided to stay in the Mountain West in 2012. Boise State had reached an agreement to place its football program in the Big East (now American Athletic Conference) and its other programs in the Big West but reneged as the Big East membership changed.

Harsin ended his email with a reference to one of the most famous plays in Boise State history — the Statue of Liberty handoff, which led to a win over Oklahoma in the 2007 Fiesta Bowl.

“Let me put it like this, (2007) Fiesta Bowl, 2-point play … Put the ball behind our back and stand there like a statue and take the biggest risk in the most critical moments of the game or run up the middle and stay conservative,” Harsin wrote. “I know which one I’d pick and glad I did because it changed everything. TIME FOR STATUE LEFT PART 2!”

In a separate email chain, Harsin asked Sept. 9 “what progress we’ve made towards our future plans.”

Tromp responded: “I struck out on my end — not good news.”

Apsey followed with a response referencing a conference commissioner “pushing the pause button.” He also said the commissioner — a woman — had referenced faith-based, private institutions “as the mission” and indicated expansion was unlikely at this point. That could be a reference to the West Coast Conference, which has strong basketball. Apsey also wrote that he was reaching out to the Big West. Both could serve as a potential home for the Broncos’ non-football programs.

Boise State’s past two football games have been canceled because of COVID-19, but the Broncos are scheduled to play their final regular-season game Saturday at Wyoming (4 p.m., CBSSN).