The University of Idaho will make the unprecedented move to drop down a level, from the Football Bowl Subdivision to the Football Championship Subdivision, sources told the Idaho Statesman on Wednesday.
President Chuck Staben, Athletic Director Rob Spear and coach Paul Petrino will appear at a press conference on the Moscow campus at 11 a.m. MT Thursday.
Idaho will play in the Big Sky Conference, where all of its other teams compete, starting with the 2018 season.
No FBS program (formerly Division I-A) has moved to the FCS (I-AA) without a NCAA mandate, and the last one to leave the FBS at all was Pacific, which eliminated football after the 1995 season.
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FootballScoop.com and CBSSports.com also reported Wednesday’s news, based on sources.
On March 1, the Sun Belt announced it will not renew membership to Idaho and New Mexico State as football-only members after the 2017 season. That day, Idaho said it would play as an FBS independent or move to the Big Sky, where it had an open invitation.
In a January interview with the Statesman, Staben said about independence: “That alternative does not look attractive to me.” The Vandals played the 2013 season as an independent, but traveling and scheduling are difficult, especially for a program like Idaho, which has the lowest revenue in the FBS.
Staben also has stressed the importance of the student-athlete experience, and said “winning is better than losing.” The Vandals have won 73 games since moving to FBS in 1996, an average of 3.7 wins per season. Since 2000, Idaho has one winning season.
Making the move will have huge implications on the athletic department. Football will have to reduce scholarships from 85 to 63, and the overall budget will take a hit. By leaving FBS, Idaho will lose at least $1 million annually in College Football Playoff money generated through the Sun Belt office, and the amount of revenue produced by the football team playing “body-bag games’’ will be reduced.
The Vandals currently have road games at Florida (2018), Penn State (2019), LSU (2020) and Indiana (2021/2022). All are expected to pay more than $1 million, though those games could be canceled or the contracts changed with the move to FCS.
Petrino also has a clause in his contract to have it revisited should Idaho change conferences.
Based on Idaho State Board of Education documents, Idaho projected $1,914,700 in NCAA/Sun Belt/tournament revenue sharing for fiscal year 2016. Idaho State, which competes in the Big Sky, projected $612,053.
Big Sky Commissioner Doug Fullerton was not available for comment Wednesday, but in a March interview with the Statesman, he said a move by Idaho to the Big Sky “makes a lot of sense.”
He said a drastic transition “would be non-existent.’’
“I think the Big Sky is a great choice for them, and it’s not just a personal thing,” Fullerton said. “I think of the type of institution they are, they fit, the geographic fit is much better. I understand the political realities of other parts of the state with more economic drivers. It’s hard to try to play the same game in Moscow they do in (Boise).”
In previous conversations with the Statesman, Fullerton said Idaho likely would not be eligible for the FCS playoffs in 2018 and 2019 as it transitions to fewer scholarships.
Idaho would become the 14th football-playing member of the Big Sky, which has teams in Idaho, Utah, Colorado, Oregon, Montana, Arizona, Washington, North Dakota and California.
Theo Lawson of the Lewiston Tribune spoke to Idaho State coach Mike Kramer on Wednesday. Kramer, a former Vandals player, said Big Sky coaches have not been informed of a decision, but did say, “We’ve always really pretty much anticipated this, because it just makes common sense. And in the end, common sense trumps wants, wishes and whimsical aspirations.”
The NCAA split the top level of college football into Division I-A and Division I-AA in 1978, and by 1981, there were 137 teams in I-A. That prompted the NCAA to implement attendance and stadium size thresholds. Yale, Wichita State and McNeese State met the requirements, but they played in conferences in which most teams did not, so they opted to remain in the Ivy, Missouri Valley and Southland, respectively, and drop to I-AA.
Idaho’s decision is different in that there was no ultimatum issued by the NCAA.
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Idaho Vandals conference affiliations in football
- 1894-1921: No affiliation
- 1922-1958: Pacific Coast
- 1959-1964: Independent
- 1965-1995: Big Sky
- 1996-2000: Big West
- 2001-2004: Sun Belt
- 2005-2012: Western Athletic
- 2013: Independent
- 2014-17: Sun Belt
- 2018: Big Sky