Idahos path to football independence grew clearer Friday, as the State Board of Education approved the Vandals move and Athletic Director Rob Spear revealed advanced negotiations with potential opponents.
We wouldnt be sitting here today, we wouldnt have approached the State Board if we werent confident that we could get it done, Spear said of scheduling.
The Vandals are determined to remain at the Football Bowl Subdivision college footballs highest level for at least two more seasons, to allow time for possible conference realignment and a new lucrative playoff system to take effect.
Playing NCAA football as an independent makes the most sense for us, for our student-athletes and for our program, Idaho President Duane Nellis said.
Even if it means scrambling to secure a schedule, television contracts and a bowl tie-in. Spear said Idaho has a self-imposed two-year deadline on independence.
The State Board also gave permission for Idaho to negotiate and accept an invitation to the Big Sky in all sports, including football. The board voted 5-1 with only President Ken Edmunds of Twin Falls objecting. Edmunds wanted Idaho to return to the board if it elects to take its football program to the Big Sky.
While Spear and Nellis refused to close the door on remaining in the Western Athletic Conference for non-football sports, the momentum is clearly pushing the Vandals toward the Big Sky. Idaho was a charter member of the league in 1963 and remained a full member until 1996.
Nellis cited geography and traditional rivals as a reason to return to the Big Sky, which has been campaigning for Idahos return for months, if not years. The league extended a formal all-sports invitation about two months ago.
Big Sky Commissioner Doug Fullerton said he would start negotiations with Idaho after the boards vote. Previous discussions between Idaho and the Big Sky have focused on the leagues future plans, Spear said. Now that the board has approved the move, Spear said, the talks will become more focused on potential divisional alignments, scheduling possibilities and entry fees.
Spear said he hopes to make a final decision within three weeks.
As a football independent, the Vandals will receive $100,000 from the Bowl Championship Series next season, the same agreement that Army and Navy have with the BCS. That number, Spear said, would exceed projected revenue from the WAC in future years.
Spear said Idaho wants to schedule three big payday games each season to make it work financially. As increased television money finds its way into the sport, however, Spear said it might take just two paydays of $1.5 million in future seasons.
Idaho has had preliminary discussions with ESPN about scheduling help. Spear said Idahos current contract with Learfield Sports includes provisions for three televised games.
Board member Milford Terrell, a former Bronco Athletic Association president, warned Idaho not to return to the board asking for academic money to support changes in the athletic department, and told Spear that the entire university community must rally around the moves.
He made a good point. People have to support this program, Spear said. We have a lot at stake. Im confident they will.
Brian Murphy: 377-6444,Twitter: @MurphsTurph
WHAT ABOUT THE 2013 SCHEDULE?
Idaho has four contracted football games for 2013 at Mississippi (Aug. 31), at Wyoming (Sept. 7), vs. Northern Illinois (Sept. 14) and at Washington State (Sept. 21).
Athletic Director Rob Spear told the Statesman he has two game contracts awaiting his signature. He said he needed State Board approval before finalizing those contracts.
Spear said there are two game contracts pending opponents signatures. Two more games are being negotiated. Spear said those games are linked together.
Spear said three of the to-be-announced games are multi-year home-and-home series.
In 2013, Spear said it is likely that Idaho will play New Mexico State twice, once in Moscow and once in Las Cruces, N.M.
If all of those games come together, Idaho will have 12 games for the 2013 schedule.