McFeely blog: Boise State leaving Mountain West dead for now, which is not good news for those who would like to see NDSU go FBS

Idaho school wants to move football team to AAC, but can't find conference home for its other sports

MW territory map - Football (1).png
A map of the Mountain West Conference's football programs. MWC graphic

(Note: This is the fifth in an occasional series of columns and blogs in which InForum's Mike McFeely will explore the possibility of North Dakota State's football team moving to the Football Bowl Subdivision.)

FARGO — What I labeled a "moonshot" just became more like a "Jupitershot." At least for now.

CBS Sports college football writer Dennis Dodd reported that Boise State's football team will not move from the Mountain West Conference to the more beefy American Athletic Conference because the Idaho school can't find a league for its other sports.

Boise State had been in discussions with the American in 2020. The AAC reportedly is interested in Boise State as a football-only member, meaning the Broncos would have to find a conference home for its other sports since the MWC would boot them once their football program bolted.


article7066455.ece embed-BisonFBSpoll Would you like to see NDSU pursue a move to the FBS Mountain West Conference if the opportunity arises? For sure, move up would be fresh and exciting. No way, contending for FCS championships is perfect. Not worth talking about because it's unrealistic.

"(The interest) went away because they couldn't find a place for their other sports," said a source familiar with the discussion who requested anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the talks told CBS. "If they could find a place for the other sports, it might have been done in the spring. Hell, they might have been (in the American) this fall."

Why does this matter to Fargo?

Because if you are among those who would like to see North Dakota State's football program leave the Football Championship Subdivision for a move to the higher Football Bowl Subdivision, Boise State leaving the MWC would've opened a potential landing spot for the Bison.

I wrote in December about the possibility and have followed up with several other columns and blogs. I called the idea of NDSU landing in FBS and the Mountain West "a moonshot." But it's a moonshot worth pursuing, given the Bison's decade-long success in FCS.

The latest Boise State-AAC news is at least a temporary setback, although in the ever-changing landscape of modern college athletics nothing is ever final when it comes to conference and division realignment. It's clear the AAC is interested in Boise State, it's clear the Broncos are interested in moving their football team to the AAC. And with the College Football Playoffs likely expanding to 12 in the near future, which would include an automatic bid for one Group of Five team, the urgency for G5 conferences to get their ducks in a row has never been greater.


In other words, we haven't heard the last of Boise State and the AAC.

According to CBS, the most attractive landing spot for Boise State's programs besides football would be the Big West Conference, an 11-team non-football league. Problem is, the conference is all California schools and Hawaii (which plays football in the MWC and is an associate member of the Big West). The Big West would have no incentive to add an Idaho school.

Other potential spots for Boise State's non-football programs would be the West Coast Conference, but that league is made up of strictly private, religious-based schools, and the Western Athletic Conference, but that league has expanded to Texas by raiding the Southland Conference and recently restarted football.

Idaho media outlets, followed by national outlets, broke the story last fall that then-Boise State head coach Bryan Harsin urged his administration to pursue leaving the MWC when he was upset the league shut down its season over COVID-19 (the conference later changed direction and played a shortened slate). Boise State reportedly talked with two other leagues, including the AAC.

Later emails obtained by CBS through open-records requests indicated Boise State communicated with AAC commissioner Mike Aresco.

It's not entirely clear how interested NDSU might be in moving to FBS. School president Dean Bresciani has consistently said FCS is the school's athletic "sweet spot," and those words were echoed by athletic director Matt Larsen.

But in January, speaking with WDAY-TV's Dom Izzo , Larsen didn't say the Bison were in their sweet spot in FCS.

"The Mountain West has done a great job, but that's not a Matt Larsen decision, that's a decision for a lot of stakeholders need to be involved in, and hey you never know what the future may hold," Larsen said when asked specifically about the Mountain West. "My job is for NDSU not to stand still, whether that's building facilities, whether that's investing at other areas of our programs. Looking at the landscape what's best for NDSU, you always look at those things, you always ask the 'what if' questions about everything."



  • McFeely: Time for Bison football to plan for moonshot to FBS There's a sense NDSU football is running in place, expending all that energy with nowhere to go except where it's already been
  • McFeely Mess podcast: Get on the ball, NDSU, and try to move to FBS With possible movement in Mountain West, it's time for Bison to explore upward possibilities
  • 'Never know what the future may hold'; NDSU's athletic director talks FBS and indoor practice facility A shovel will go in the ground this spring on the long awaited indoor football facility at NDSU
  • McFeely Mess podcast: More FCS conference realignment coming? Augustana to the WAC? NDSU to the MWC? It's all on the table in this podcast Matt Brown of the Extra Points Newsletter discusses all the changes on the mid-major landscape
  • McFeely blog: Entz sounds supportive of FBS in radio interview, believes Bison would 'continue to have great success' NDSU coach says move to FBS could cut down on players leaving and would aid recruiting

Bison head coach Matt Entz has recently used the letters "FBS" more openly in his public comments. When he was asked on his weekly radio show in April about the impact a move to FBS might have in keeping NDSU players from transferring to bigger schools, Entz said he believed fewer players would leave the Bison and "I can just imagine the areas it would open up for us in recruiting. "

A move up remains a longshot because NDSU would need a football-only invitation — it couldn't afford to have all its programs competing in the MWC — and the needed boost in fundraising would be substantial. NDSU's institutional support of athletics, through student fees and otherwise, is miniscule compared to MWC schools and even most FCS schools.

A move to FBS would take strong backing of the university's president and there's no indication Bresciani, 61, supports such a move or is willing to take on the task as he presumably inches toward retirement.

As has been written in this space before: The least NDSU can do is be prepared . If/when Boise State bolts the MWC and if the league contacts NDSU to gauge interest, the school can't afford to not take seriously a once-in-a-generation opportunity.

Mike McFeely is a columnist for The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead. He began working for The Forum in the 1980s while he was a student studying journalism at Minnesota State University Moorhead. He's been with The Forum full time since 1990, minus a six-year hiatus when he hosted a local radio talk-show.
What To Read Next
Get Local