This Day In Sports: A one-off conference game vs. a “big” school

October 10, 1970: An oddball game during Boise State’s first year in the Big Sky, as the Broncos fall 27-14 at Long Beach State, led by eventual first-round NFL Draft pick Leon Burns. Because some previously-set schedules by Big Sky opponents (Idaho, Montana and Northern Arizona) couldn’t accommodate the Broncos that season, the matchup against the 49ers counted as a conference game. It was a tough assignment, as Long Beach State ended up the co-champion of the Pacific Coast Athletic Association, the forerunner of the Big West. Boise State, which beat Montana State and Idaho State, and lost to Weber State, officially finished 2-2 in Big Sky play.

Tony Knap was in his third season and was more than happy to raise the competitive bar. That’s why he came to Boise State to build its program as a four-year school. Long Beach State was the first “University Division” team the Broncos had played. (Before the days of Divisions I, II and III in 1973, the “big” schools were the University Division and the “small” schools were the College Division.)

And Knap was fairly inspiring. At the outset of the 1970 season he was stricken by the Herpes Zoster virus and had to coach from a wheelchair. Knap eventually progressed to walking sticks, and then back to full strength, and he led the Broncos to an 8-3 record. In seven seasons at the helm, Knap would go 71-19-1 and lead Boise State to it first three Big Sky championships and Division II Playoff appearances. He left for UNLV in 1976.

The designated conference game against Long Beach State makes you wonder if the Mountain West ever toyed with the idea of counting the Broncos’ game against BYU during the 2020 COVID season in conference standings. Would that have been controversial or what? The original plan for that season, which was delayed until late October by the pandemic, was for each MW school to play an eight-game conference-only schedule.

But the Broncos were granted an exemption to preserve their rivalry game against the Cougars. BYU, which had been playing since September, won 51-17. Would the loss have kept the Broncos out of the Mountain West championship game if it was counted as a league contest? No. Boise State was 5-0 in MW play and would have been 5-1—still in the top two with eventual champ San Jose State.

(Tom Scott hosts the Scott Slant segment during the football season on KTVB’s Sunday Sports Extra. He also anchors four sports segments each weekday on 95.3 FM KTIK and one on News/Talk KBOI. His Scott Slant column runs every Wednesday.)

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