The Idaho saga of independence may come full circle this week.
Dennis Dodd of CBS Sports reports that Idaho will be one of four schools invited to Sun Belt conference beginning in 2014. Idaho, along with New Mexico State, would be a football only member.
Joining Idaho and New Mexico State in the Sun Belt will be Georgia Southern and Appalachian State.
This will be Sun Belt commissioner Karl Benson’s second go-around with Idaho — He was the commissioner of the WAC when he invited Idaho in 2005.
The expected move should move the Sun Belt to 12 football playing members, giving the conference an ability to play a championship game. Although, Western Kentucky has been rumored to be making a move to Conference-USA.
In a related development, the Idaho State Board of Education is expected to vote on giving Idaho the ability to accept such a conference invitation. The SBOE will be in Moscow on Wednesday for the announcement of the interim president along with the Sun Belt vote.
Idaho will play 2013, coach Paul Petrino’s first at the helm at Idaho, as an FBS independent with its olympic sports remaining in the Western Athletic Conference for the 2013-14 athletic calendar year. It’s then expected Idaho will slide in to the Sun Belt for football in 2014 while non-football sports enter the Big Sky conference.
The advantage for Idaho being in the Sun Belt, as opposed to independence or FCS, would be the ability to participate in the new playoff format slated to begin in 2014. The highest rated team in the ‘Group of Five’ (MAC, MWC, Sun Belt, C-USA and what is formerly the Big East) will be able to participate in ‘Access Bowls.’ For Idaho, the revenue generated from the new playoff format is reason enough to stay FBS.
The Sun Belt would provide Idaho the opportunity to remain FBS.
A general worry some may have with the Sun Belt is travel and the lack of a regional rival. But really, the Sun Belt might be the best possible scenario. Non-football sports being housed in the Big Sky would alleviate travel costs for non-revenue sports, as the football team charters flights to road games.
The Mountain West is a close to impossible option for Idaho with Boise State’s decision to stay, and the Mid-American Conference has shown little interest in expanding past it’s main base of Ohio and Michigan.
As for the 2014 schedule, when Idaho is expected to join the Sun Belt, there’s currently framework for seven football games in 2014, although two of those games are against Sun Belt members (Texas State, Arkansas State). With the Sun Belt playing eight conference games the Vandals would likely have to figure out how to move one of the remaining five expected games. It’s possible to push back the return dates of expected return games for home-and-home agreements (Northern Illinois, Fresno State).
Currently Idaho’s 2014 schedule is:
Aug. 30 – at Florida
Sep. 13 – v. Western Michigan
Sep. 20 – at Ohio
TBA – at Fresno State
TBA – at Northern Illinois