A report from the Lewiston Tribune Thursday suggests Idaho Athletic Director Rob Spear did not favor moving Idaho football to the Big Sky Conference in 2018.
A week before the decision was announced, Spear penned an email draft to Idaho President Chuck Staben asking to delay the decision.
“President Staben, The more I reflect on this decision, the more I think it is important that you delay the Big Sky decision for the following reasons,” Spear wrote. “1. We have a number of spring sport championships that will be completely over shadowed with an announcement in May. This would be unfortunate for those student-athletes. 2. Football has endured an investigation and getting removed from the Sun Belt. I don’t think it is fair for the student-athletes and coaches to endure another setback. There are a lot of positives heading into next season. 3. An announcement now will tremendously impact fundraising.”
On April 28, Staben, Spear and Idaho head coach Paul Petrino met with the media to announce the drop from the Football Bowl Subdivision to Football Championship Subdivision.
The decision was controversial, coming just 58 days after the Sun Belt Conference dropped Idaho.
Many Idaho fans are still bitter about the outcome. A Facebook page titled Fire Staben has reached 142 likes since its creation April 28.
Idaho charged the Lewiston Tribune $911.14 to collect the 645 emails sent and received by Spear and Staben.
Idaho made a final plea for continued membership in the SBC in February. The emails suggested Staben was pro-BSC before the presentation.
“I feel more strongly that we need to plan to move to Big Sky,” Staben said in a Jan. 5 email to Spear.
Spear had drafted an independent schedule for 2018 and called it feasible but difficult in an interview with the Tribune.
Spear said he stands by his email draft.
“At the time I thought a delayed announcement was important to allow us to focus on season ticket sales and fiscal year-end fundraising,” Spear told the Tribune last week.
Spear said fundraising and season ticket sales have taken hits.
Several emails the Tribune received were from donors who threatened to stop donating to the football program.
Western Athletic Conference commissioner Jeff Hurd approached Spear about recreating a WAC football league at the FBS level.
“Although (former Big Sky commissioner) Doug Fullerton had interest, one of my concerns is that the new Commissioner might consider it too much of a risk to have on his/her plate right shortly after being hired,” Hurd said.
In two separate emails, Spear spoke positively of a FBS WAC.
“It may be time to get the WAC to take 6 football schools and form an FBS league. It would certainly save the WAC,” Spear said.
Spear said the league would require partnerships with other schools.
“The WAC has traction and I look forward to influencing the Big Sky from within. I know I can convince Montana and Montana State to jump…we need to lock arms with them,” he said. “And a bowl win changes everything! I know our kids will be motivated!”
The WAC would need eight members to qualify as an FBS league, six for an FCS league.
“Ultimately, President Staben made the decision to move to the FCS,” Spear said.
Tess Fox can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @tesstakesphotos