When I first heard the news that Gene Bleymaier had been fired yesterday, I was completely shocked. My initial thought was that he had been made the scapegoat, the fall guy, for the NCAA violations. I've been thinking about it though, and it doesn't quite add up. For starters, Boise State doesn't really need a scapegoat because the violations weren't all that bad in the first place. Secondly, if they were going to make Gene the fall guy, wouldn't they have done it before the NCAA hearing. Thirdly, Kustra always seemed to have a lot of confidence in Gene but suddenly fired him because he no longer felt confident with him. Why the sudden turnaround? That got me to thinking, could it really be Bleymaier's own fault that he got canned?
First of all, the allegations come out that Boise State has been violating NCAA rules. Then they go to the hearing in Indianapolis, with Bleymaier in tow, to explain why the do in fact have institutional control. Both Kustra and Bleymaier have said that they expect the self imposed sanctions to satisfy the NCAA. Yet, now, out of the Blue (see what I did there), Kustra up and fires Bleymaier. The hearing was two months ago, I can't imagine that firing him now is going to do a whole lot of good. Wouldn't it had made a ton more sense to fire him before the hearing, right after the allegations were made public.
Also, it appeared to me, as a neutral observer, that Bleymaier and Kustra had a very cordial relationship. Why then would Kustra suddenly lose 'confidence' in him. Take a look at this quote from a May 8 article in the Statesman, right after the allegations came out:
"I have confidence in the department," Kustra said. "Our athletic department runs a very clean program compared to what we read about and hear about in the national media. I still think that is the case."
Sure sounds like Kustra still trusted Bleymaier at that point. So what happened? I can only come to one conclusion.
Before I go on, let me preface this by saying I am totally guessing here and all this might just be a load of crap. I am just supplying my theory on what happened.
So, one thing that we know about Gene is that he always prided himself on having a clean program. Is it that much of a stretch to think that he would go to various lengths to make sure it stayed that way? This is what I think happened:
- Amy Christoffersen, the former Boise State track coach who set this whole mess in motion, continually started to bug Gene about NCAA violations that the track team was committing. Gene, not wanting to report any violations to the NCAA, decided just to ignore her. Finally she got 'reassigned' as insurance coordinator. Angry, she sent an email to the NCAA, likely detailing every violation she had ever seen (you know, like the $2.34 Jack-in-the-Box value meal). She then was fired and filed a ridiculous gender-discrimination suit against the University and Bleymaier. I don't think Bleymaier cared much for her gender when she was fired, he cared more about the clean image of his program.
- The NCAA came in and did their big investigation concluding in 39 pages that the Broncos had violations in multiple sports. Gene, with no other option but to cooperate now and ever the stickler for compliance, did his own internal investigation and reported back to the NCAA with 1500 pages of every secondary violation Boise State had ever committed. All was well and good, as both Boise State and the NCAA had wrapped up their investigations. Boise State was to go to a summary disposition and settle the violations. The news probably wouldn't even make tomorrow's paper. Thus everything would be good and the program's image would remain intact.
- Then Tennis-Gate happened. The tennis coaches played a player that wasn't enrolled in the university. That, in itself, is probably the very worst violation in the NCAA rulebook. Boise State self-reported this to the NCAA because they were going to find out anyway. Then the hammer fell. Boise State was charged with a lack of institutional control and called upon at a hearing in June.
- The news of the allegations came out in the media and it completely ruined the image the Gene had worked so hard to build. All wasn't completely lost though, as the national media considered the violations a complete joke. Everyone was in agreement that Boise State hardly lacked institutional control because of one tennis coach.
- Kustra, Bleymaier, and company went to Indianapolis to argue that they had control of their institution and that their self-imposed penalties were enough. Everyone came away from that meeting feeling pretty confident.
- Kustra shocks everybody by announcing that the man who built Boise State over the course of three decades has been fired.
So what happened exactly? What changed in the three months between the allegations and Bleymaier's dismissal?
I think that Kustra found out that 'Clean' Gene knew about these violations as they were happening and attempted to cover then up, a la Jim Tressel at Ohio State. I think the Gene had such an insistence on following the rules that when he found out that rules were being broken, he didn't want the NCAA to find out so he pretended that they never happened. Following the line of thought, is it possible that he had multiple people in the athletic program and compliance department that were alerting him to these violations but he repeatedly chose to ignore them and instead tried to stop future violations from happening? Could that be why Kustra lost faith in him? Or could the NCAA have found out and demanded that Kustra fire him or face more severe penalties?
Of course, like I said above, all of this is my best guess about what happened and could surely be completely wrong. It's just the only logical explanation I could come up with as to why Kustra made such a turnabout with actions and firing Bleymaier.
Either way, it's truly a shame. Gene Bleymaier is the reason that Boise State is where it is today. He built Boise State into a powerhouse and put it and the city of Boise on the map. He invented the Blue Turf for crying out loud. It is truly sad that the school has to part ways with him, whether deserved or not.