Two chapters of the Vandal Scholarship Fund wrote letters in support of the University of Idaho football team remaining a Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) program. The letters, addressed to UI President Chuck Staben, were written by Puget Sound Chapter and Ada County Chapter presidents and made public over the weekend.
â€œAt the heart of our belief that dropping down to the FCS (Football Championship Subdivision) is the wrong answer, is a strong conviction that the damage to the University will be severe and widespread,â€ wrote Jonathan Parker, president of the Ada County Chapter.
The former Vandal wide receiver said collegiate athletics are a defining aspect of a university.
â€œWe can not compete for students â€“ let alone student athletes â€“ if we continue to treat our athletic programs as an afterthought,â€ Parker said in the letter.
Parker said collegiate athletics are responsible for bridging cultural gaps and building a strong campus community.
â€œItâ€™s this culture that students are looking for in the university they choose to call home,â€ Parker said in the letter.
He said a transition to the FCS would result in the loss of 20 football scholarships, due to differences in available football scholarships for each subdivision. FBS football programs are allowed to provide 85 scholarships, while the FCS has a cap of 63 football scholarships per team.
Parker said the move would also impact womenâ€™s athletics, due to Title IX legislation.
â€œOf equal importance to our board is the potential loss of entire womenâ€™s sports programs, which we find wholly unacceptable,â€ Parker said in the letter. â€œWhile we appreciate that youâ€™ve stated we wouldnâ€™t â€˜necessarilyâ€™ have to get rid of the womenâ€™s programs, we are skeptical that an FCS funded balance sheet would be adequate to prevent the reductions.â€
Robie Russell, president of the Puget Sound Chapter, echoed Parkerâ€™s concerns in a similar message.
â€œIf the University of Idaho intends to promote itself as the leading institution of higher education in Idaho, it must maintain its status as a Division I/FBS university,â€ Russell said in the letter. â€œTo do otherwise seriously undermines its image both in state and out of state and to a number of constituencies including corporations, donors, alumni and prospective students.â€
Russell said the universityâ€™s statewide presence would be impacted by its decision regarding the Vandal football program.
â€œAnd, whether we like it or not, in Idaho the political wars are fought on the football field,â€ he said in the letter.
Russell said moving to the FCS would likely result in the loss of financial support from key donors.
â€œThere is a strong correlation between the perceived status of an institution and the willingness of its various constituencies to continue to aid said institution with financial and political support,â€ Russell wrote. â€œIf the University is perceived to be going backward, contributions will decline and corporations will look to invest elsewhere.â€
â€œFurther, as many alumni and VSF supporters have already stated to you, their contributions will decline or cease entirely if the University takes the drastic and unheard of step of going backwards on athletic status.â€
Russell said a move to the Big Sky Conference would also weaken monetary support from the Moscow community.
â€œTo remain competitive within its own community and region, Idaho cannot afford to drop down,â€ Russell said in the letter. â€œIf it does, its fan and support base will move their attention and monies to WSU.â€
Russell said the decision would have ramifications extending beyond collegiate athletics.
â€œLike it or not, athletic status has a strong impact on enrollment and the publicâ€™s perception of institutional worth,â€ Russell wrote.
Parker said the decision to address Staben was based on unanimous support from the Ada County Vandal Scholarship Fund board.
â€œWe really wanted our voice to be heard,â€ Parker said. â€œAs a collective board we do support Idaho maintaining FBS Division I status.â€
Parker said he hopes the letter will spark change with the athletic programs on campus.
â€œWe would really like to see the administration place more of our resources into supporting the athletic department,â€ Parker said in an interview with The Argonaut. â€œWhether thatâ€™s through the building of facilities or advertising. We would like to see the university place more of an emphasis on supporting its presence.â€
Parker said a commitment to maintaining nationally recognized athletic programs would provide Idaho with success in the classroom and on the field.
â€œWe believe the University of Idaho should be great at everything we do,â€ Parker said. â€œThis includes both academics and athletics. The two are important in that they both complement each another.â€
UI is currently considering an invitation to join the Big Sky Conference as an FCS football program. Staben said the conference provided a deadline for the decision.
â€œThe invitation from the Big Sky is until May 4, so we anticipate sometime before then we will decide whether to accept that invitation,â€ Staben said during a press conference March 1. â€œWe could always ask the Big Sky to extend that offer. At this point though, that is the offer that is on the table.â€
University Communications and Marketing confirmed Staben received the letters, but declined to comment.
Josh Grissom can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @GoshJrissom