| March 20, 2018

Football: Chapters Urge Staben to Keep Idaho in FBS

April 18, 2016

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.

“At 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,” wrote Jonathan Parker, president of the Ada County Chapter.

The former Vandal wide receiver said collegiate athletics are a defining aspect of a university.

“We can not compete for students – let alone student athletes – if we continue to treat our athletic programs as an afterthought,” Parker said in the letter.

Parker said collegiate athletics are responsible for bridging cultural gaps and building a strong campus community.

“It’s this culture that students are looking for in the university they choose to call home,” 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 women’s athletics, due to Title IX legislation.

“Of equal importance to our board is the potential loss of entire women’s sports programs, which we find wholly unacceptable,” Parker said in the letter. “While we appreciate that you’ve stated we wouldn’t ‘necessarily’ have to get rid of the women’s programs, we are skeptical that an FCS funded balance sheet would be adequate to prevent the reductions.”

Robie Russell, president of the Puget Sound Chapter, echoed Parker’s concerns in a similar message.

“If 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,” Russell said in the letter. “To 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.”

Russell said the university’s statewide presence would be impacted by its decision regarding the Vandal football program.

“And, whether we like it or not, in Idaho the political wars are fought on the football field,” he said in the letter.

Russell said moving to the FCS would likely result in the loss of financial support from key donors.

“There 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,” Russell wrote. “If the University is perceived to be going backward, contributions will decline and corporations will look to invest elsewhere.”

“Further, 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.”

Russell said a move to the Big Sky Conference would also weaken monetary support from the Moscow community.

“To remain competitive within its own community and region, Idaho cannot afford to drop down,” Russell said in the letter. “If it does, its fan and support base will move their attention and monies to WSU.”

Russell said the decision would have ramifications extending beyond collegiate athletics.

“Like it or not, athletic status has a strong impact on enrollment and the public’s perception of institutional worth,” Russell wrote.

Parker said the decision to address Staben was based on unanimous support from the Ada County Vandal Scholarship Fund board.

“We really wanted our voice to be heard,” Parker said. “As a collective board we do support Idaho maintaining FBS Division I status.”

Parker said he hopes the letter will spark change with the athletic programs on campus.

“We would really like to see the administration place more of our resources into supporting the athletic department,” Parker said in an interview with The Argonaut. “Whether that’s through the building of facilities or advertising. We would like to see the university place more of an emphasis on supporting its presence.”

Parker said a commitment to maintaining nationally recognized athletic programs would provide Idaho with success in the classroom and on the field.

“We believe the University of Idaho should be great at everything we do,” Parker said. “This includes both academics and athletics. The two are important in that they both complement each another.”

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.

“The invitation from the Big Sky is until May 4, so we anticipate sometime before then we will decide whether to accept that invitation,” Staben said during a press conference March 1. “We could always ask the Big Sky to extend that offer. At this point though, that is the offer that is on the table.”

University Communications and Marketing confirmed Staben received the letters, but declined to comment.

Josh Grissom can be reached at arg-sports@uidaho.edu or on Twitter @GoshJrissom

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  1. Take the Big Sky offer, better for everyone at UI except those with huge egos who believe everything that was written above.

  2. The Big Sky offer is not better for anyone at the University of Idaho, not to mention the cost it would do to athletics at the university in general. This isn’t just cutting Football scholarships (among other issues), but also that dropping to the morass of the Big Sky Conference will be the death-knell to many non-revenue sports. In any case, it would be financially expedient to drop football altogether instead of going FCS, as FCS programs are a drain on revenue; Alabama-Birmingham is the perfect example of this. As an alumni, I guarantee you that maintaining FBS status (and with it, relevancy) is key to both Idaho Athletics and the university in general.

    1. What relevancy? Do you think that being a perennial doormat in a mid-major conference automatically grants you more relevancy than being a solid Big Sky program? As someone who grew up with college football on the east coast, I can tell you that there is not one team in the current Sunbelt lineup that I had heard of prior to doing some research on the conference a few years ago. In point of fact I had thought that the Sunbelt was an FCS Conference until said research. Now the proposal is to try and make a go of it as an Indy and hope that there is another shakeup that will give you an FBS Conference home? The Vandals will be lucky to play 4-5 games at home as outside of a few MWC and MAC bottom feeders, no one wants to play in the Kibbie Dome at the FBS level. The Vandals have had nearly 20 years to produce on field success and expand their facilities. The facilities, on field performance, attendance, and everything it takes to have a successful and profitable program have simply eluded the Vandals at this point.

  3. I live in Seattle and I don’t remember anyone from Puget Sound chapter contacting me to ask what I thought. I don’t agree with Mr. Russell’s assumptions.

    “Like it or not, athletic status has a strong impact on enrollment and the public’s perception of institutional worth.”

    Really? I’ll remember that on September 10th when the Vandals travel to Husky Stadium to collect a check and pretend that statement means something. Do you really think the Husky fans really cares whether the Vandals are FCS or FBS? Let’s say the Vandals win, will that affect what anyone knows about the UI academic program?

    Just because you say it doesn’t make it so.

    The Big Sky Conference makes sense and to think otherwise is foolhardy.

    1. Agreed Kurt. Scheduling FBS Bodybag games doesn’t improve the perception of the program (other than as a joke). When you look at the over 60 years of Conference affiliation that Idaho has had for football and you only see one conference title that isn’t labeled Big Sky (and many conference titles that are labeled Big Sky), you have to question on what grounds people claim that FBS is a sound argument for UI. History certainly doesn’t support it.

    2. Kurt, you didn’t hear about it because you don’t donate to the VSF, thus not a member of the chapter. Just like 90% of all big sky proponents you are out of touch with reality and currently do not donate.$ to athletics.

  4. If the Vandals were going to remain FBS they have had nearly 20 years to do so and have failed in just about every respect:

    1) The stadium has had no significant upgrades since 1975 (I don’t think any other program in the FBS can say that). It is the second smallest stadium in the FBS (with only recent FCS Convert Charlotte being smaller).

    2) Fan attendance has been abysmal as said 17K stadium is almost never full.

    3) On field performance simply hasn’t shown it. One Big West title for 20 plus years and 2 Humanitarian Bowl wins over an 11 year gap aren’t enough to overshadow all of the other seasons where they have been a perennial on ESPN’s Bottom 10 list. Some see going from a 1-11 to a 4-8 season with 3 FBS wins as turning the corner, but IMHO that argument goes out the window when a New Mexico State team that was on a 13 game losing streak snapped their record when the Vandals snatched defeat from the jaws of victory in that game.

    4) I hate to break it to the pro-FBS folks but many of the FBS programs that these folks claim give the Vandals relevance really don’t. I grew up in the eastern college football world and I hadn’t heard of any of the current Sunbelt lineup until I actually researched them a few years ago. More people out West have heard of Eastern Washington, Montana, Montana State, etc. than any folks back east have heard of the Sunbelt Schools. The point is that there are very few programs outside of the P5 schools that folks realize play in the top division of college football.

  5. I’m pro-FBS, but I do think if UI goes independent they will have no plan to stay D-1, like building up facilities, expanding or taking the roof off the sacred cow called the Kibbie Dome. Contrary to popular belief, building a Division II-sized hoops arena isn’t going to help football. It’s another UI smokescreen.

    My dream is for UI to play in a 25K-30K outdoor football stadium and get WSU and BSU back on campus for football games. The dome is not, never was, and never will be an FBS stadium, no matter how many small enhancements are made. This is where Mr. Parker is way off. UI fans want FBS, but also want to stay in the FCS dome. That’s the disconnect.

    I’d like to see UI dream big: play their TRUE rivals WSU and BSU home and home, or until the time comes play 4 games in Martin and 2 in the dome until they get a true FBS stadium built. But I know the UI, Staben,Spear, etc., won’t do this. It would take work. It’s the same reason enrollment numbers have stagnated for 20 years — it takes work and the UI doesn’t want to roll up the sleeves.

    Unfortunately if UI does stay FBS (which I support), they will have no plan to move forward.