Yesterday afternoon, Boise St. President Bob Kustra essentially fired Athletic Director Gene Bleymaier when he announced a "presidential decision" that new leadership will be needed. While this is a single event at a non-Pac-12 school in a non-Pac-12 state, and therefore potentially dismissed as of no relevance by many Pac-12 followers, this could be the first of several dominoes to fall that could impact the conference, and Oregon St.
Bleymaier, a 30 year employee at Boise St., and the driving force behind the now famous blue turf that became the Broncos' signature feature as they rose from the Division I-AA (now known as the FCS division) to not just a competent FBS program, but one that has won multiple BCS games, and become a regular contender for BCS bowl berths, and also oversaw the school's move up from the WAC to the Mt. West Conference this past year, is taking the fall for the NCAA investigation into what it called "lack of institutional controls" at the school as it related to recruiting.
The allegations as it relates to football border on the absurd, involving allowing camp attendees who might also be potential recruits to sleep on air mattresses on dorm floors, and feeding them off the dollar menu at Jack In The Box.
Clearly, these actions have landed the Broncos a number of 4 and 5 star recruits that not only allowed them to blow by Utah St. and Fresno St., but deprived not only Nevada and Louisiana Tech, but also Washington, USC, and Alabama of those blue chip players. Not.
The real problems actually relate to women's tennis and track and field, and more importantly, the apparent disregarding of not only emails calling his attention to the issues, but the lawsuit that a former coach used to get Bleymaier and others' attention when emails didn't work.
Which actually lend some credibility to the NCAA's lack of institutional controls charge. And more importantly, led to reduction in practices, recruiting visits, and scholarships for the football program.Presumably, Bleymaier was probably too busy hiring and holding on to coach Chris Petersen, and getting national attention, and ESPN appearances (here's where the blue turf comes in), which produced the dollars that fueled the growth of the program, to worry about transgressions with tennis and track in Boise. Doubtless, he was following the dollars, and doubtless, as directed by said university president, at least in his 6 years on campus. After all, balancing the budget and growing enrollment are over-ridding issues that matter on every campus in the country. Disregard those issues, and the AD, the school President, and a lot of others will be out of work.
There's a message from the NCAA here for everyone though, and it's don't get tunnel vision on football (and men's basketball) just because it's a) what your customers care about, and b) what pays the bills, directly and indirectly. Recall that trouble with tennis was a component of the troubles at USC as well.
But beyond that, how does this affect the Pac-12, other than possibly Washington and Washington St. not having to play on the blue turf when they visit Bronco stadium down the line if the next athletic director decides to replace the blue turf in response to pressure from those using it as a ridiculous excuse to throw up a barrier to further advancement of the Boise St. football program?
The answer is in several ways, and at several levels.
This is the latest episode of a trend of firing someone after an NCAA issue comes to light, in order to try to demonstrate that by severely punishing someone, more severe sanctions aren't necessary. This completely independent of whether the person thrown under the bus might be best suited to lead their programs going forward.
After all, Ohio St. fired Jim Tressel, and North Carolina Butch Davis, after the Buckeyes and Tar Heels committed various and sundry transgressions. Meanwhile, Pete Carroll, seeing the writing on the wall, escaped unscathed from USC to the NFL, and the Trojans subsequently got hammered.
So the thought process seems to be that a high profile person needs to suffer a career wrecking, or the NCAA won't be satisfied. (Never mind that USC essentially did have both a President and an Athletic Director depart at least in part due to the events that unfolded there.)
Davis' relative value might be up for debate, but does anyone really think that anybody who currently is or may soon come onto the campus in Columbus will really be more able to attract top recruits, and then apply them in a way that will win games, thereby getting the Buckeyes on prime telecasts, and eventually into bowl games, than Tressel?
Fast forward to when University of Oregon Athletic Director Rob Mullens has to decide how to handle the fallout of the Willy Lyles affair (on top of various other player extra-curricular activities). Setting aside what coach Chip Kelly or his staff did or did not do, and any pro or anti Oregon perspective, Kelly and group did whatever they did, and nothing he or Mullens do now can change that. But what Mullens can do is affect what happens going forward.
As at Ohio St., it's hard to objectively see anyone doing better than Kelly at attracting recruits and using them in a way that will win games. And that's what sells season tickets, suites, as well as t-shirts and advertising packages. And will keep Oregon boosters happy, instead of calling for someone's job, possibly including Mullens'.
Unless Mullens is convinced the NCAA will hit Oregon, the current premier program in the Pac-12 (they are the two time defending conference champions who are picked to win it again, and are realistically expected to contend for at least a top 5 BCS finish the next several years), with enough sanctions on scholarships and television if Kelly is still around that he can't possibly succeed.
Or Mullens finds himself in the market for someone to take over should Kelly opt out of the situation for another opportunity. (And there will be some.)
Especially if there is an attractive alternative. One with experience with colorful uniforms supplied by Nike.
Like, say current Boise St. coach Chris Petersen. Petersen, hired during Bleymaier's reign, and promoted to head coach by Bleymaier, has repeatedly listened, but then said "Thanks, but no thanks", to offers from BCS automatic qualifier schools, including some in the Pac. Petersen has valued a known situation, one where he knew he could succeed, and with Bleymaier's solid support, at an institution that had valued loyalty.
This after seeing both Dirk Koetter and Dan Hawkins leave for supposedly better jobs at BCS AQ schools then or now in the Pac.
Depending on who is both the interim and more importantly, eventually the new permanent athletic director for the Broncos, and what they do, will Petersen still see Boise St. as the best situation possible? Would the Oregon job become more attractive? Think about that for a moment, Pac-12 football fans.
And if not Oregon, how about a half dozen other destinations? If this season isn't an improvement under Rick Neuheisel at UCLA, Dennis Erickson at Arizona St., and Paul Wulff at Washington St., changes could be in order. While it's possible, and even probable, that one or more of those programs will in fact progress, it's also reasonable to assume that one or more may not.
If none of those dominoes fall, there could be more possibilities a little later. Oregon St. and California have both seen declines in performance in recent years. Odds are, with respected and experienced coaches like Mike Riley and Jeff Tedford, the Beavers and Bears will rebound. But what if that trend continues in either place? Or will the impact of scholarship restrictions prove too much for Lane Kiffen to overcome at USC? And can David Shaw really handle the job as head coach at Stanford?
If there are even rumblings amongst the ticket buying clientele at any of these places, don't delude yourself for a minute that there won't be a phone call placed to Petersen to at least explore off the record what the possibilities might be.
Further, no termination at this level is an isolated event. Someone will get the job, and that too could impact things at Oregon St. Consider Associate Athletic Director Steve Fenk, an aggressively upwardly mobile alum who would like to someday take over the top job. Like when Bob De Carolis retires a few years down the line.
It's highly unlikely Oregon St., or any other Pac-12 school, is likely to hire an Athletic Director who has never before held that job before at any level. But a brief side trip to a nearby non-AQ school, one that just happens to be a highly visible up and coming one where it would be hard to foul things up, would look really good on his resume.
There are other similar would be rising stars sprinkled all around the conference too. All of whom will be submitting applications in Boise.
It will be interesting to see which dominoes fall, and don't be surprised if some of them currently have the Pac-12 logo on them.