Idaho to fight for its FBS future Athletic Director Rob Spear says

The future of University of Idaho football may be no more clearer today than it was last week. But Athletic Director Rob Spear assured Vandal Nation and other media members in a conference call today that the athletic department will continue their ongoing process to find the best possible situation for Vandal football and athletics as a whole with an “emphasis on maintaining our FBS status.”

“I have received a series of emails. People are concerned,” Spear said. “What I have told them is that we have been resilient; we will continue to be resilient. We are going to land on our feet. No matter the outcome, the University of Idaho is going to be fine.”

Idaho will need that resilience, since a resolution doesn’t seem likely to be coming any time soon.

By this time next year the Western Athletic Conferences will, in all likeliness, cease to exist as a football playing conference and Idaho is one of only two schools that still hasn’t found a home yet. Idaho made a concerted effort to join their peers in the new look Mountain West, but was ultimately shown the cold shoulder.

“The main reason (we weren’t extended an invitation) was our marketplace and our demographics…they emphasized we didn’t have enough televisions in our area,” Spear said. “We made the case that we have a great presence in the Northwest but the MWC did not think that that was enough.”

Now, the University of Idaho is left to pick up the pieces after getting shafted in this game conference re-alignment musical chairs.

“The next step is for us to do a lot of evaluation. There are a lot of moving parts here and it’s not done,” Spear said.

Spear laid out four different scenarios that could play out for the Idaho:

  • Finding an FBS conference home for all sports.
  • Placing football in a separate conference than the olympic sports. This would likely be the Sun Belt option. The problem would therein lie in finding the olympic sport home. Salvaging the WAC as a non-football conference could be a solution.
  • Independence. That comes with its own can of worms of complications. Finding a bowl tie in, consistent scheduling partners and enough teams willing to come to Moscow become a huge challenge.
  • FCS football and the Big Sky, only if it could lead a return back to the FBS. More on that a little later.

The ideal situation is, of course, to find a conference right now willing to house not only football, but all Vandal sports. But that probably went out the window with the Mountain West saying “No, thanks.” Which means the preferred situation would be to turn towards the Sun Belt and see what opportunities lie there in terms of being a football only member.

Spear wouldn’t be specific in terms of which conferences correlated to which scenarios, even going as far as saying there are “more options” than the Sun Belt, but again, didn’t clarify beyond that.

For the latter two scenarios Spear made sure to make one thing clear – Whatever path Idaho eventually chooses to go down, it will be with an eye towards the future as a member of big time college football, including the Big Sky option.

Spear believes that the conference re-alignment game will continue to heat up, and as the bigger conferences move to establish themselves with the best possible opportunities for television revenue, the reverberation will bounce down to the “second tier” conferences.

“There is high probability of overall restructuring in two years that can separate the big five conferences away from the rest of the FBS. If and when that happens we want the University of Idaho in those conversations,” he said. “There is interest across the country that if there is overall re structuring and the big five conferences go away there are a lot of schools that are going to want to be in that second tier, including the University of Idaho.”

It will be those shifts that Idaho will be counting on if they are going to salvage their future in major college football should a conference invite not come from the Sun Belt or Mountain West in the immediate future.

Making a move down to the Big Sky would only happen with the hope that the vision of the conference would be to incorporate itself in to the highest levels of college football once the dominoes fall with the major conference powers.

Should Idaho go independent it will be with a plan to jump on a conference invitation when the dominoes fall from the big time conferences. The most recent comparison to a program going independent to salvage it’s Division I FBS status would be Temple, which was ousted from the Big East in 2005 only to join the Mid-American Conference two years later.

Spear says there is no definitive time table towards making a decision on Idaho’s path but that discussions are “ongoing.”

“There are a lot of discussions that have to happen between now and the first of July. At this time because we are involved in various conversations with a lot of different people. We are going to do our evaluations and make sure we make the right decisions for the University of Idaho.”

Sean Kramer is a 24-year old University of Idaho student majoring in Journalism. He's been a sports writer at The Argonaut since the fall of 2011.
  • Realist

    Be resilient. In the Big Sky. You might actually be successful there, too. Way too many schools chasing the FBS dream with barely a sniff of success. I’d rather be in a competitive regional league facing ISU, EWU, and the Montanas than playing random schools like La. Tech or NMSU. Do fans even care about those games??

  • MeowMeow

    The fight will be with the apathy of: fans, alumni, boosters, administrators, students and the local community.

    The average home attendance over the last 3 football seasons (2009 – 2011) is @ 12,400/game. That average is less than the average from the 1970 season @ 13,700/game and similar to the 1980 season @ 12,000/game. It will be hard to justify enlarging a venue that is only being used at about 80% capacity and has never shown any sustained growth. (all attendance information from Wikipedia)

    The 2012 home schedule is easily the least attractive of any in the last ten years. Eastern Washington (a FCS program), Wyoming (expected to be the only decent FBS team coming to town – Unfortunately that game will be played on the same date as WSU homecoming game against Colorado) and (3 teams expected to be in the bottom 20 of all the FBS) New Mexico State, San Jose State & UT San Antonio. It will be hard to improve attendance with such a poor schedule.

    All the local (including Spokane) media attention will be focused across the border on WSU and their new coach Mike Leach. Media attention in the Treasure Valley will most likely continue to be dominated by BSU. The difficult travel & schedule in the first half of the season will make it extremely hard to have a great/good (likely even a winning) record heading into conference play. The current strength of the WAC as a football conference is a mere fraction of what it was 3 years ago. It will be hard to generate any excitement for the football program.

    With the WAC imploding as a football conference, the Vandals are left with many unknowns for the Athletic Department. This may impact player retention and will negatively impact recruiting. What is true of the athletes, will be true in the coaching department. With the MWC rejecting the Vandals there is not any possible good outcome, only varying degrees of the bad kind. Fear and the unknown will plague the foreseeable future. There is no reason to expect a rise in TV ratings for Vandal Football.

    “Brave and Bold,” it will take more than just that, but that would be a good start.

  • Realist

    Taking the plunge back into FCS would be “bold,” don’t you think?

  • sportsisfun

    I’m truly sorry to see all of the negativity and so many people ready to throw in the towel. I’m astonished by this defeatism.

    @meow…you CANNOT really upon the attendance statistics prior to the changes made in recording attendance a couple of years ago. I would say the attendance records the past few years are the most accurate and prior years were either estimates and/or inflated. For example, I attended the Idaho vs BSU game in 1987 and they claim it was the highest attended game in UI history. However, I’ve attended other games against BSU when their was not a seat in the house yet the official attendance didn’t surpass the 1987 game.

    @ realist…do you really want to see an FBS team that’s never lost a bowl game drop down to the FCS? I’m here to tell you the days of the Big Sky football were BORING. A typical game were made of offensive players who coud score points but the defenses couldn’t ever get a stop. Meanwhile, those successful Idaho years the attendance was in reality no more than 6,000 to 7,000 people attending the games. The Dome wasn’t even 1/2 full.

    Today, look what we have…we do have a good football team and we have a great coaching staff that has been doing the right job the right way. The outcome is that attendance has grown considerably, we’re bringing in MAC and MWC teams that give us a great challenge. Heck I remember when our football team had to play Division II teams like Mankato St,, Colorado College of the Mines, etc. Those were NOT entertaining nor were they fun to sit through. By halftime there might only be a few thousand people left in the stands.

    Meanwhile, today we have a band that’s 2 times the size it was and the student section is generally 2/3rds full and the students actually participate in cheering on the team. Today, we have tail-gating and just an overall great gameday experience.

    I believe if Idaho drops down to FCS we’ll lose an essential experience that’s important for students and Alumni to experience. I believe remaining in the FBS will keep the Alumni engaged and provide motivation for Alumni to return to Moscow to visit the campus and attend games.

    Dr Spear had a study completed that describes the economic impact football and athletics has on the local community. I would encourage people to read it and get the local community more involved to save FBS football. If everybody would put as much energy into doing something positive as they do being negative we’d have an extremely successful program.

    From my perspective we have naysayers and negative nellies with a vision of despair and hopelessness. I have trouble identifying with this behavior and I wish Vandal fans would snap out of the funk and get involved. Dr. Spears has outlined many times on the GoVandals.net articles what action he needs for people to take. He has no leverage unless EVERYBODY does their part by getting involved even if it means filling a seat and dragging a friend a long.

    In summary…it would be a major mistake to go backwards. I see this crisis as an opportunity for all Vandals to step back and take inventory of themselves, stop blaming people, places and things, and get involved in a positive manner and move forward with a quiet confidence and position UI athletics for a bigger and better future.

  • Don W

    The time for action was 15 years ago when the Vandals a brand new division 1-A program. Instead the Vandal administration and fan base sat on their hands and did nothing to improve their situation. The Vandals moved their home games to Martin Stadium to avoid building a satisfactory stadium of their own. When the NCAA revoked the minimum stadium size the games were moved back to the Kibbie Dome and Vandal Nation stuck their head in the sand. The Kibbie Dome is the smallest FBS facility by 6,000 seats! Where was the fund raising campaign 10-15 years ago? Where is it now?

    This posturing by Spears is far too little far too late. The Vandal football program’s fate is set. It will take a miracle to end up anywhere but the Big Sky.

  • Realist

    @sportsisfun- it’s not negativity; it’s reality. Unfortunately it’s “negative nellies” with blinders like who refuse to see the big picture who are going to ruin Idaho football by forcing them to be a homeless FBS outcast rather than a competitive FCS power.

    What does UI get from competing in FBS? Bruises, losses, and frequent flier miles. There is no national recognition from being an also-ran in a low-major conference, the alumni don’t experience increased pride from reading the boxscore of UI-SJSU. The benefits are far outweighed by the lack of competitiveness and the lack of meaningful series. Boise St.’s not playing Idaho anymore, Wazzu hasn’t been on the schedule since 2007; do games against Louisiana Tech or NM State do more for you than potential matchups with Idaho St. or Montana?

    As for the bowl record, let’s not let a 2-0 record in the home-state Humanitarian Bowl carry more weight than 11 I-AA playoff appearances. Bowls are a consolation prize for being .500, and the Vandals have still only played in two. Besides, why pick that record instead of the 66-122 mark UI’s compiled since moving up in 1996? Heck, the first 5 years of that was against fellow Big West transplants, so we’re looking at 34-98 from 2001 on. Still think “2-0” is the relevant record?

    Here’s the negativity: referring to joining the premiere FCS conference as “dropping down” (and then criticizing its “BORING playing style”– you don’t find wins more interesting than losses?). I think that’s a positive move. Much more so than languishing as an independent or begging the Sun Belt for readmissions.

    UI should move to the Big Sky, and there are two ways to handle it. You can be “woe is me” like sportsisfun, or you can embrace the challenge of joining the best FCS football conference by renewing you commitment to competition against your peer regional rivals. Football can still have a positive impact on the local and broader alumni community if the administration accepts this as a positive move. Oh, and did I mention people like wins better? Unrealistic fans like sportsisfun need to get their heads out of the sand: FBS football passed UI by. Now you need to “move forward with a quiet confidence” by rejoining the Big Sky.

  • Realist

    Question to sportsisfun and others like him: is being a nominal FBS program worth so much that you would be willing to join the Sun Belt? Do you truly believe that road trips to ULM, FAU, or MTSU are worth it to stay at the bottom of the top level of college football? Honest inquiry.

  • OldTimeVandalFan

    I would really hate to see Idaho rejoin the Big Sky in all sports. Big Sky basketball will never get any respect from the NCAA. With Seattle, Denver, and NMSU in basketball, if the WAC could convince Weber State to join in everything but football, and maybe Portland State in everything but football, (I doubt either of those schools would be willing to move up in football), then at least the WAC could be saved in basketball and other Olympic sports. It would be a big disappointment for Idaho to go back to the Big Sky, especially given how ridiculously big the Big Sky is.

  • http://sportsisfun.wordpress.com sportsisfun

    @Realist…REALLY? It appears to me your focus on what you percieve as “reality” is in fact your blindspot.

    First, it appears UI has lots of options and it appears the landscape of college football is about to change and Dr Spear wants Idaho to be well positioned. It may be the Big Sky comes up to our level. Just remember that little fact.

    Meanwhile, I haven’t anything to do tonight so I’m writing you an essay abot my expectations and dreams for UI athletics.

    I put my head in the sand when I’ve been wounded and need a break. Just to let you know that since graduating from Idaho I’ve had a blessed career where I got work in planning and development and had the chance to take abstract concepts and ideas and organize them into something tangible. For the past several years I’ve been managing the outcomes of planning and development specialists. I think I’m qualified to think about what’s possible in the World.

    If I had my head in the sand I wouldn’t be speaking out on a subject that I’m extremely passionate about. I’ve always expected Alumni, students, parents and anybody associated with the University such as communities of Lewiston, Moscow and CDA to be as passionate as I am about my University.

    Sadly, I don’t see it…and that makes me feel really sad…so I’m speaking out!

    I’ve been an avid Vandal for over 45 years and I have vivid memory on the politics both on campus and in southern Idaho that forced Idaho to drop down to D1-AA. I never once believed we belonged there and I’ll tell you why in a few seconds. Meanwhile, I watched a black cloud descend over Idaho athletics for many years and it wasn’t until Mr Belknap came along and provided some leadership that UI athletics were able to survive. And, that included elimination of a very successful baseball program….bye the way that has been a mistake.

    My memory includes over the opportunity to experience D-1 football gamedays on several I-5 corridor campuses. These experiences built up my expectations…after a few years I returned to Idaho and enrolled at Idaho in 1986 and graduated in 1990 (Idaho’s 100th Class).

    I recall how much anticipation I had to attend my first UI game in the Kibby Dome. I don’t even recall who we played but I remembered feeling embarrassing and disappointed there were only 4 or 5 thousand people at the game. The place was dead and I felt deflated. There was more excitement at my high school games.

    So, I have to tell you that after experiencing gamedays at UW, Oregon, Oregon St and Cal I had bigger expectations. Even though Idaho was tearing up the Big Sky there was a total lack of support from the student body, the community and Alumni. I worked in the Sports Information Department for 3 years and worked with former AD Dr. Gary Hunter and I remember the disappointment he felt when less that 3,000 people show’d up fo watch Idaho’s first round playoff game against Southern Illinois in 1989. It was pathetic…but we had the same outcomes when we hosted first round games against Weber St in 1987 and NW/NE Louisiana in 1988. I’m saying…it was pathetic. I even remember Big Sky football games where there were more people from the others schools attending the games than Vandals fans in attendance. That was the reality of Big Sky football.

    I’m just telling you that when you play down at the FCS level you are irrelevent and nobody cares. I think its important to strive to be relevent.

    Football is the face of the University and we need to be throwing our support in every way possible to support the program. Football brings Alumni back to Moscow. Alumni spend money and are good for the local economy. Alumni who are connected to the Univesity donate more money. I also believe a strong football program attracts research, scholars and increases UI’s endowment. There’s a lot of benefits to truly getting behind the face of the University.

    If everybody would make sacrifices and truly get behind the program the wins will come and the money will come to support the program. Again, I encourage you to get hold of the economic study Dr. Spear commissioned so you can know why football is important to the community’s economy. I also encourage you to visit the govandals.net website and read about what Dr. Spear has been saying he needs to have happen to grow the program.

    Finally, I’m just saying…since moving up to FBS that attendance is more than 2 X’s what it was in the 70′s, 80′s and 90′s. A reminder…you cannot rely upon the attendance estimates because they were inaccurate and over inflated. Only a person who worked in the athletic department would know that to be a fact. Failure to support Idaho’s football program will be a mistake.

  • http://sportsisfun.wordpress.com sportsisfun

    @Realist…the answer is yes. FCS football is not relevant and Moscow’s local economy will suffer because Alumni will not feel enticed to visit and attend games. If Alumni are not connected to their University they will not donate to their favorite programs and causes. In essence the endowment will suffer.

    The fact is that in our society football is the face of our universities and what people percieve is reality. Therefore, wiithout UI students, alumni, etc doing what’s necessary to be 100% behind UI weakens it’s ability to attract students, scholars and research dollars.

    I predict that unless UI gets behind its athletics that BSU will surpass Idaho in all aspects of education and will eventually have the votes to remove Idaho from the constituion. I’m just saying…the SBOE’s forcing Idaho to remove “flagship” from its mission statement to me is the writing on the wall.

  • Realist

    I think UI football is largely irrelevant either way. As the BSC commissioner aptly noted, better to be at the top of FCS than bottom of FBS. Or put another way, if you’re going to be irrelevant, you might as well win.

    Football attendance in the 70’s and 80’s is irrelevant, so compare Idaho’s average home attendance (roughly 12,000) to that at Montana (25,000+) or Montana St. (15,000). How does that support your claim that FCS automatically equals irrelevance? Or that the nominal distinction of FBS status drives attendance and interest for a low-performing program? What seems to matter far more than some misplaced sense of pride at being a crappy FBS team are wins and compelling matchups. Both are much more readily found in the Big Sky.

    If you truly are the avid Vandal fan you claim to be, then you should take your own advice and support UI football no matter what path it follows. If the best decision proves to be Big Sky membership, I hope you’ll resist the impulse towards negativity and embrace it as a step in the right direction. Because it really is the most logical choice for Vandal football.

  • Realist

    Also, did you know UI charges lower ticket prices than a number of FCS schools including Montana, MSU, NDSU, SFA, &c.? No lie- I just saw that on the below forum. Lower prices, but STILL lower attendance? What’s so great about FBS again?

    http://www.anygivensaturday.com/showthread.php?108278-Idaho-to-the-the-Big-Sky/page19

  • http://sportsisfun.wordpress.com sportsisfun

    @realist…it’s obvious you don’t care and half a glass 1/2 full mentality. And, its clear you aren’t a fan. Therefore, its obvious you didn’t understand what Dr Spear outlined in the report published.

  • Realist

    @sportsisfun- it’s obvious that you’re really good at relying on circular logic and unsupported ad hominem attacks. Clearly you’re much smarter than me so explain the good Dr.’s report and how it somehow gives magic gravity to being an FBS bottom-dweller.

    Also, moderate optimism can be a good thing, but I fail to see how stubbornly refusing to call a spade a spade is healthy for the future of UI football. The program stunk even when it had a conference, it’s going to be even worse trying to cobble together some FCS upgrades or playing as an independent. At some point, surely it has to make sense to join the Big Sky and try to make Idaho the next Montana, don’t you think?

  • http://sportsisfun.wordpress.com sportsisfun

    Ha! Dude! Foreget it this conversation…your realist view is dim…I cannot help somebody like you see the light…good luck to you…

  • Student

    The biggest argument on here is that people believe that the Vandals will be competitive at the FCS level versus being uncompetitive in the FBS. However, it is important to note that FBS schools can provide 85 scholarships while FCS schools can only provide 63. We will lose 22 players right out of the gate. After that, we will lose players that came to Idaho to play in the FBS and have a potential shot at the next level. Now we have lost our best players to transfer at that point. A rebuilding period would likely be needed as we transition through loss of players, player transfers and bad recruiting classes. My point is that dropping down to the FCS most certainly does not mean we will be competitive based on how many “shrinking pains” we will have to go through.

    I also don’t believe games against Montana State and ISU will be anymore interesting than games against NMSU. Being in a conference for a few years builds rivalries, like how Fresno State beat us in 2010 by a field goal and knocked us out of bowl contention. Don’t we want to get them back for that? I did, and then they spoiled Dad’s weekend by thumping us at home. Bulldogs are a bunch of punks… Anyways, we don’t need an annual game against ISU, Montana or BSU to keep interest, we just need the fans to actually pay attention to the games. Maybe then they’d see that our WAC games can be interesting if you knew what happened the last time we played or the last few times.

    Besides all that, who wants to watch Triple-A baseball versus the Major Leagues anyways? Being in a lower league just isn’t the same, you cant take pride in success at a lower level. You can go watch EWU all you want but at the end of the day it wont be the same as seeing a BSU or WSU game or whatever FBS team you want to watch. And hey, if BSU came from absolutely nothing to where they are now, who says we cant? We just need a little support, more money, and a vastly better facility.

  • Realist

    Sportisfun’s inability to coherently explain his beliefs aside (protip: if you can’t explain and support your beliefs with more than random anecdotes, you should probably examine them a bit more closely), I appreciate Student’s attempt to provide some insight from the student body. That said, your argument is based on a number of assumptions which you cannot simply take for granted in order to prove your point. A few that stick out:

    1. UI would lose its ‘best’ players by moving to FCS. First, it’s unclear that the NCAA would make UI immediately shed 22 scholarships. There’s no recent precedent for this kind of move (nor is it clear that transfers wouldn’t still be penalized by losing a year of eligibility), so it’s possible UI could phase out those extra grants. Even assuming they couldn’t, there are still two major problems with this assumption. 1. that all Idaho’s ‘best’ players would voluntarily transfer out because of the FCS move: some players might just like attending UI and would prefer to play a more competitive, less travel-heavy schedule. 2. that 22 players even could find other FBS landing spots. UI’s trend of poor performance suggests a lower talent level, so it’s unlikely other FBS programs would be falling over themselves to sign UI transfers.

    Your proposed “shrinking pains” COULD occur, but this would by no means be a guaranteed result. Besides, if as sportsisfun suggests, FBS is so far superior to FCS, shouldn’t UI be able to run roughshod even with a few defections?

    2. fans are more interested in WAC football/ teams can’t “take pride in success at a lower level”. You sort of negate the first half of this assumption by pointing that most people don’t pay enough attention to WAC games to care about Fresno St.; taking the analogy you use (MLB vs. Triple-A), if Big Sky football doesn’t matter, then does WAC football? Who wants to watch WAC football versus Pac-12 football or the NFL anyway? Basically you pose this relativistic question about the level at which success ‘matters’ (a point which I, and any other athlete at any level would disagree with you over), but then neglect that UI does truly play at the highest level, nor is it highly competitive at that lower level. Do you really think most fans understand football well enough to appreciate comparative on-field play more than wins versus losses? That’s essentially what your argument hinges on, and I don’t think the average UI student would know the difference.

    3. If BSU can, why can’t UI? Technically speaking, UI “can” but have yet to do so. Why would this be a relevant argument for staying FBS? Any team potentially “can”- but there are 120+ other FBS teams trying to do the exact same thing: it’s not a simple question of more support, more money, better facilities when everybody else is doing the same thing.

    Again, I appreciate the thoughtful response, but I would caution you against jumping to quick conclusions based on specious and conclusory assumptions.

    Embrace the future: Idaho as a Big Sky power. Sounds a lot better than WAC doormat.

  • Student

    @Realist

    At the time of my last post, I was so severely opposed to the move that I did make some assumptions and quick conclusions. You do bring up some very good points and I appreciate the thoughtful response to mine.

    I just want to make sure you understand the frustration I feel from this. My freshman year (2010), we played North Dakota in the season opener. I remember saying distinctively to my friends and family back home in Seattle that this was a prep game against a podunk little school from the FCS. We have a great town, school, alumni and student body; but all we will ever be seen as is WSU and BSU’s shrimpy little brother.

    However, as the months have gone by and the options dwindle to nothing, I have come to accept the move to the Big Sky. I cant say that I am happy about it, but seeing as we have totally run out of options for FBS football so I am willing to go into this with an open mind.

    My hope for this move is that good things do happen; people begin to get interested again, crowds get bigger, we are competitive. I suppose I cant abandon the Vandals now, so lets make the most of the situation. Roll Vandals.

  • http://vandalnation.wordpress.com Sean Kramer of Vandal Nation

    The University has since continued to re-iterate a staunch position against moving to the Big Sky at this point and time.

  • Realist

    @Student-

    I appreciate your passion, and I can understand the frustration of this seeming ‘demotion,’ but I’m glad to see you standing strong behind the future of Vandal football, whatever form that takes.

    As for playing schools like UND, are they really that different from a fellow Western land-grant like UI? Greater Grand Forks is 100,000, UND is the flagship university of its state, 11k undergrads (vs. UI’s 10k), they play good football with lots of local support- I think that’s a far better cultural fit than chasing big programs at big schools in big cities or non-flagship universities across the country, and I truly think Idaho can flourish and find itself at the FCS level.

  • Wilinsalem

    I am a 95 grad living in Oregon. I think there is another solution. I think the big sky could be looking to move up. I may be wrong, but there are pluses to the regional nature of the big sky, what if they absorbed Idaho and nmsu and tried to move up as a league? Living here, I would love to go see the vandals when they play psu, but hate to see them drop. What if the whole league moved up to d1?

  • Me

    Not going to happen. To many small stadiums and small budgets to make it work. Not to mention schools fresh from D2 like N Colorado and S Utah who would have no chance of competing.

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