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Boise State, Mountain West end months of speculation about conference realignment

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Boise State vs. Nevada

Boise State running back Cyrus Habibi-Likio scores a touchdown in the first half of the Broncos' 21-20 loss to Oklahoma State on Sept. 18. 

BOISE — The Mountain West Conference will remain intact after all.

The conference announced Friday morning that all 12 of its football-playing members remain committed to the league.

“The trailblazing Western institutions of higher education in the Mountain West Conference are proud of our academic excellence, the strength of our athletics programs and the splendor of our campuses, and today we are announcing our collective commitment to membership in the Mountain West,” the Mountain West Board of Directors said in a statement after it met on Friday.

Boise State Athletic Director Jeramiah Dickey also confirmed Friday that the Broncos plan to stay in the Mountain West, but will continue to do their due diligence.

“I have consistently stated since arriving at Boise State that our institution is a proud member of the Mountain West, but we will always do our due diligence in regards to what is best for our department and university,” Dickey said in a statement. “While our on-field successes and positive trajectory of the university have created opportunities for us, we remain committed to the Mountain West.”

Mountain West Commissioner Craig Thompson said that all 12 members individually made the decision to remain in the conference before the board met Friday morning. He also said everyone in attendance agreed that keeping the Mountain West intact was critical, especially with an expanded College Football Playoff still on the table.

“It was very important from the perspective that we’re really on an upward trajectory,” Thompson told the Idaho Statesman. “I think we are the strongest (Group of Five) league out there, not just based on this year’s play and what we’ve been doing with this current membership, but what we’re going to be able to do in the future.”

Thompson said he feels like the Mountain West is in good position to have one of the six highest-ranked conference champions, should the College Football Playoff expand to 12 teams, and conversations are ongoing about possibly adding teams to the league.

He said all options remain on the table, including staying at 12 members or adding football or non-football schools. Thompson also said discussions continue about the conference ditching its two-division model in hopes of better positioning its top team to be one of those highest-ranked champions.

There’s also talk of adding a ninth conference game to the schedule, because Thompson said a growing SEC and a scheduling alliance between the ACC, Pac-12 and Big Ten could limit the number of quality nonconference games available in the future.

“Close collaboration will continue as we identify the best path forward for the Mountain West within the evolving landscape of intercollegiate athletics,” the board of directors said. “That will include aggressively pursuing strategic initiatives and amplifying our collective brand. We enthusiastically look forward to continuing to provide Mountain West student-athletes with world-class academic, personal growth and athletics experiences in the nation’s top Non-Autonomy Five conference.”

The Autonomy Five is a reference to the Power Five conferences that have additional rule-making authority within the NCAA.

Friday’s announcement ends months of speculation about Boise State’s immediate future. Conference realignment talk kicked off in July when Texas and Oklahoma announced they were leaving the Big 12. The two high-profile programs are going to the SEC.

Boise State will bide its time and wait to see whether a Power Five invite materializes.

“We will continue to work closely with our fellow members to strengthen and enhance the league as the landscape of intercollegiate athletics continues to evolve,” Dickey said. “Boise State is committed to excellence in all aspects of our university, including our athletics programs, and our commitment to — and investment in — our student-athletes, coaches and staff will only grow stronger. We will not rest on our past successes. We will continue to build upon them in order to achieve epic results.”

After the Big 12 announced it was adding BYU, UCF, Houston and Cincinnati, speculation turned to what might happen next. Would the American Athletic Conference try to poach Mountain West teams to fill its vacancies after losing UCF, Houston and Cincinnati? Should the Mountain West add teams in an effort to further position itself as the top Group of Five conference in the country?

In the end, Boise State and the rest of the Mountain West decided their best course of action was to stay put and let the AAC scramble to fill its ranks.

The Boise State football team has won four Mountain West championships since joining the conference in 2011, and the Broncos have played for the title in each of the past four seasons.

The Broncos’ win at Utah State last Saturday marked their 20th consecutive regular-season win against a team from the Mountain West. Boise State continues conference play against Nevada on Saturday (1:30 p.m., FS1).

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