Momentum appears to be building for Boise State and the Mountain West to possibly play football this fall after all.
A report late Wednesday night from Stadium’s Brett McMurphy said the league is “aggresively exploring” the possibility of playing an eight-game fall season with a championship game on Dec. 19.
According to McMurphy, some schools with restrictions such as Hawaii, Fresno State or Air Force might not play, but even a partial season with some teams would make the league — and Boise State — eligible to participate in a New Years Six bowl game at the end of the year.
The report came after a crazy Wednesday in which the Big Ten Conference announced a fall football season would begin in late October and Mountain West commissioner Craig Thompson responding with a statement that his league was working to play football “at the earliest possible opportunity.”
As opposed to a statement from MAC commissioner Jon Steinbrecher that said there were “no plans to play a fall season” due to continued concerns related to the COVID-19 pandemic, Thompson appeared to leave the door open for a possible return in 2020.
“Multiple subgroups within the conference are working daily on solutions to the existing challenges in order to facilitate a return to play for Mountain West football, and other conference sport programs, at the earliest possible opportunity,” Thompson said. “This includes finalizing a plan for frequent, rapid response testing and continuing to monitor the status of public health directives in our MW states and communities.”
The Big Ten originally voted to cancel the fall season in early August, but it reversed course Wednesday in a unanimous vote of league presidents and chancellors due to medical advances in rapid COVID-19 testing and cardiac screenings.
The Big Ten will start antigen testing on Sept. 30, and a nine-game season will start the weekend of Oct. 24.
Boise State coach Bryan Harsin also issued a statement in response to the Big Ten news, saying, “The Big Ten’s announcement today that they’ve identified a safe path for playing football this fall is very encouraging. Our players and coaches want to play. We appreciate our conference’s statement regarding the ongoing efforts being made to explore all options for safely returning to the field as soon as possible. We look forward to getting back on The Blue.”
The announcement from the Big Ten means just three conferences — the Mountain West, Pac-12 and MAC — aren’t currently scheduled to play football this fall.
One big hurdle for both the Mountain West and Pac-12 remains the schools located in California, which would need governmental approval at both the state and local levels due to current restrictions. The Mountain West has three teams located in California: San Diego State, Fresno State and San Jose State.
Hawaii, a Mountain West member in football, has current travel restrictions including a 14-day quarantine that would also appear to need to be waived or altered to allow for football games to be played there.
Wildfires in California and poor air quality across the West Coast also could present problems.
Adding to the intrigue of a possible return, UNLV coach Marcus Arroyo tweeted Wednesday morning, “I’m FIRED UP about our most recent @MountainWest conversations. #WeWantToPlay @unlvfootball players have worked so hard to safely compete. Let’s ‘stamp’ the plan and ROLL!!”
The Boise State athletics department is facing a loss of $20 million if no football season is played. Playing even a partial season this fall would allow schools in the league including Boise State to recoup some of the money from television contracts and sponsorship deals.