The Lawyers Have Entered The Chat re: Boise State vs MWC

Is it a lawsuit? No, not exactly. But when you can't negotiate, you litigate.

Good morning! Thanks for spending part of your day with Extra Points.

I must admit, this will be a bit shorter of a dispatch. Part of that is because it’s the third newsletter in quick succession about Boise State, which I generally try to avoid, and also because I am flying to Houston tomorrow and still haven’t done things like pack, or make lunch for my children, or any of those important logistical things I should probably do before ditching town for a few days.

But first, let’s check in on the Boise State vs Mountain West saga

If you’re new to the story, there’s a bit of an explainer in the last Extra Points. If you want the absolute TL;DR version: Boise State believes it has the right to have their home games sold separately from the rest of the MWC TV package, which gives them more money. They currently have that privilege now, and will continue to have it over the duration of the brand new TV deal the league just announced with CBS and Fox. The MWC says that will be the last time Boise gets special treatment. Boise believes the MWC can’t unilaterally make that decision.

It turns out, this conflict has escalated beyond just angry statements. Boise State went out and filed a formal complaint and request for a jury trial.

Multiple outlets reported that Boise State had filed a lawsuit against the MWC, a claim that made sense, since boy that document looks awfully lawsuity to me.

But on Wednesday evening, the Mountain West and Boise State released a joint statement:

“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.

So maybe Boise State sued the MWC, maybe Boise State just filed something that looks and sounds an awful lot like suing the MWC, but hasn’t actually done it yet.

This particular passage stood out to me while reading the complaint:

…In early December 2019, Mr. Thompson was in Boise, Idaho for the MWC,s championship football game. While in Boise, a meeting was held among Mr. Thompson, Boise State's President, Dr. Marlene Tromp, and Boise State's Athletic Director, Curt Apsey. In that meeting, Mr. Thompson acknowledged that Boise State and, in particular, its football team, was the driving force behind the new, and much more favorable and profitable, deal with Fox. Mr. Thompson also admitted that the increase in revenue to the MWC, and therefore, to its members, that would result from the new agreement with CBS/Fox was dependent in large part on Fox's expressed interest in Boise State's games and, as such, he understood why Boise State expected to, and should, receive more money than the other member institutions, even double the amount…

I honestly think this description of Boise State’s brand compared to the rest of the league is almost certainly accurate. The Fiesta Bowl wins, the blue turf, the level of consistent success over the last 15+ years….all of that make Boise, by far, the most relevant an enticing television entity among league membership. That Boise State would not only seek to retain their favored status, but want to increase it (proportionately), seems reasonable to me. The complaint alleges MWC commissioner Craig Thompson felt the same way….but instead communicated the opposite message to the other MWC leaders, along with Wasserman’s Dean Jordan. The specifics here are detailed on pages 10-13 of the complaint.

I’m very much not a lawyer, so I’m not going to try and handicap exactly how this plays out. But I’ve been in this business long enough to know two things about these sorts of legal disputes.

For one, you only litigate when you can no longer negotiate. You might threaten to litigate to help jumpstart the negotiation, but at the end of the day, it is almost always preferable to try and sort these business questions out before the attorneys get involved.

Why? Because the only thing that is truly undefeated in the courtroom is billable hours.

Lawyers are expensive. Lawyering takes a ton of time. Discovery would probably be messy for either party, and could further damage reputations and relationships not just between member institutions, but between schools and media partners, consulting groups, and more.

My personal opinion is that Boise is probably correct in demanding the MWC honors their contract, and that I would understand why leaders at other MWC schools would strongly push to have that contract amended in some capacity.

Can that relationship be salvaged? I don’t know. But if I was Mike Aresco, I’d probably check on some flights to Idaho in the near future, just in case.

I’ll close out with this last thought.

A little over a year ago, I was in discussions to write a book on the history of college conferences…why some succeeded, some failed, some never got off the ground, etc. I have a whole bookcase full of books and scores of articles that for a variety of reasons, have yet to be turned into a book. Maybe it will someday, maybe not.

If there’s one lesson I took from that reading, it’s that historically, conferences that are not unified often struggle to survive long term. When one or two schools have disproportionate power or influence, when the schools are not in institutional alignment, when they don’t share geography, or academic vision, or similar goals…they run into problems. It helped break up the WAC, the Southern Conference, the Metro, and several others…and it is part of why the WCC and the Big Ten, in my opinion, have been stable and successful as well.

I’ve written before that I don’t think the AAC has that total institutional unity, and we saw that a little bit with UConn. The Mountain West is full of very similar kinds of universities, sharing a relatively similar geography…but they certainly aren’t equally powerful.

Maybe there isn’t a way to salvage that relationship long term. Maybe you can’t reconcile New Mexico and San Jose State’s needs with Boise’s. Maybe you can.

It would probably be best for everybody if the relevant parties could figure that out, quickly, and outside of a courtroom.

Thanks for supporting Extra Points. When I get back, I’ll have a new story about Pac-12 streaming networks with some original interviews, and a closer look at this bananas Atlantic Sun expansion proposal, plus notes on other stuff. Feel free to keep sending along mailbag questions, comments, tips and more to MattBrownOhio@Gmail.com, or to @MattBrownEP on Twitter dot com.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to prepare for a few days of warmer weather and unhealthy portion sizes.