Mountain West: The Spartans just aren’t keeping up

Chris Murray of Nevada Sports Net opened a can of worms yesterday with his “fun fact.” Tweeted Murray: “Since joining the MW in 2013, San Jose State hasn’t posted a winning record in any season in men’s basketball, women’s basketball, football or baseball. It’s 241-536-1 combined in those sports in six seasons.” Calls for the Spartans’ ouster from the Mountain West went viral on Twitter. One comment said, “But they bring dozens of eyeballs in from the lucrative Bay Area market.” True that. And it’s the crux of the problem. Viewership for MW games around the bay is only slightly better than “dozens.” Would the conference ever dismiss San Jose State? Unlikely. It’s just not done. But it is an issue as the Mountain West tries to keep its head above water in the battle for Group of 5 supremacy.

Make no mistake—San Jose State has an athletics pedigree. It’s one of only seven schools left in California that play football at the FBS level and has been playing major college football since the 1930’s. And the Spartans have a long-standing tradition in Olympic sports, including 10 NCAA team championships and 50 individual NCAA titles. SJSU athletes have also captured19 Olympic medals, the most conspicuous of which were won by John Carlos, Lee Evans and Tommie Smith at the 1968 Summer Games in Mexico City. But football and basketball are the sports that count in the 21st century, and (speaking of eyeballs) there just aren’t many spectators watching the Spartans live. They averaged just 14,255 fans per game in football and 1,658 per game in men’s basketball last season—and both those numbers are generous.

DOUBLE-WATCH FOR WEAVER AND CLEVELAND

It’s already “watch list season.” In more ways than one, in Curtis Weaver’s case. On Friday, Boise State’s star STUD linebacker-slash-defensive end was named to the watch list for the Lott IMPACT Trophy that matches college football’s best defensive player with the IMPACT acronym: Integrity, Maturity, Performance, Academics, Community and Tenacity. Weaver is the only D-lineman from a Group of 5 school on the list. Now, the watch also involves whether or not Weaver declares for the NFL Draft after his upcoming junior season. If he does, based on projections showing him as a first or second-round pick, 2020 will mark the seventh straight year a Bronco has had an early-entrant drafted. Weaver has the portfolio. He’s amassed 20.5 sacks in his first two seasons and was first-team All-Mountain West each year.

Boise State left tackle Ezra Cleveland is also bound to pop up on upcoming watch lists. And he may be under the same “watch” that Weaver is. Cleveland is a junior, too, but he’s been getting NFL buzz since late in his redshirt freshman year. Even when the Bronco offensive line struggled the past two seasons, the 6-6, 311-pounder was a rock in protecting Brett Rypien’s backside. Cleveland is Pro Football Focus’ highest-graded returning offensive tackle in the Mountain West.

MONTANA STATE BOBCATS: BRONCOS NORTH

There’s a definite Boise State flavor on the Montana State coaching staff, and now Nate Potter has spiced it up. Potter, one of only two consensus All-Americans in Bronco history, has been named tight ends coach by MSU head coach Jeff Choate, himself a one-time Boise State staffer under Chris Petersen. Potter spent last season as offensive line coach at College of Idaho after serving as a graduate assistant for the Broncos for three years. He played 44 games in the NFL after being a seventh-round draft pick by the Arizona Cardinals in 2012. Potter joins some familiar faces in Bozeman. In addition to Choate, the Bobcats staff features former Boise State standouts Matt Miller as offensive coordinator and Byron Hout as defensive line coach.

A BRONCO BUILDING BLOCK IN GAINESVILLE

The Boise State women’s softball team proved it belonged in the NCAA Tournament over the weekend, making it to the championship round of the Gainesville Regional before falling 5-0 to Florida on Sunday. The Broncos’ bracket-opening 9-1 rout of Stanford on Friday was the school’s first victory in an NCAA Tournament event of any kind since the Boise State men’s tennis team in 2009. The Broncos were then no-hit by Florida in an 8-0 loss Saturday, but later in the day they gutted out another win over Stanford, this one a 2-0 decision thanks to a Kelsey Broadus four-hitter. That put Boise State into the regional finals against the Gators. It was elite SEC pitching that ultimately did the Broncos in. But they finished with a 36-16 record, including two historic wins in Maggie Livreri’s first season as coach.

BRYANT’S THREE-INNING RAMPAGE

Catching up on the weekend: Congrats to all the new state champions, especially Mountain View, the 5A winner in baseball and softball. The Mavericks’ baseball team’s moment with injured pitcher Riley Harrison Saturday night was particularly poignant. The craziest thing that happened on the big league diamond involved a former Boise Hawk on Friday night. Chicago Cubs star Kris Bryant became only the 12th player in the majors ever to hit a home run in three consecutive innings in a 14-6 win at Washington. Bryant went long in the seventh, eighth and ninth. He started the season slowly, with one homer in his first 22 games. Then, after breaking his bat in a game at Arizona on April 26, Bryant replaced it with an “Axe Bat,” one with an ax-type handle, and homered his next time up. He his hit eight more since.

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May 21, 2014, five years ago today: After 44 seasons as Bronco Stadium, the facility that houses the blue turf becomes Albertsons Stadium with the announcement of a 15-year, $12.5 million naming rights agreement with the Boise grocery giant. Boise State was seeking more revenue as cost-of-attendance scholarships were on the horizon, while Albertsons’ new ownership was seeking to re-establish the company as a community leader eight years after most of it was sold to SuperValu. It had been just over a year since Albertsons LLC had bought the core of the company back.

(Tom Scott hosts the Scott Slant segment during the football season on KTVB’s Sunday Sports Extra and anchors five sports segments each weekday on 93.1 FM KTIK. He also served as color commentator on KTVB’s telecasts of Boise State football for 14 seasons.)