University of Idaho President Chuck Staben, Athletic Director Rob Spear and football coach Paul Petrino appeared at a press conference on the Moscow campus Thursday to formally announce the Vandals’ intention to join the Football Championship Subdivision and play in the Big Sky Conference in 2018.
The Vandals will become the first program to make the move to drop down from the Football Bowl Subdivision to FCS since 1982, and the only one to do so without the NCAA forcing a decision.
Idaho will play in the Big Sky Conference, where all of its other teams compete, starting with the 2018 season. On Thursday, Spear said he intends, by 2018, to get Idaho to the 63-scholarship mark that is the maximum allowed for teams to qualify for the FCS Playoffs. FBS scholarship limits are 85.
“... UI has always been one of the lowest-resourced FBS football teams, and therefore has struggled to achieve a winning record during our time in the FBS,” Staben said. “To become successful enough to affiliate with any FBS conference would entail unjustifiable, unstastainable expenditures.”
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Staben added trying to forge ahead as and FBS independent would be “irresponsible.” The Vandals played in 2013 without a conference affiliation, finding scheduling difficult even that one season.
Petrino, in his fourth season as the Vandals’ head coach, was an assistant from 1992 to 1994 at Idaho when the Vandals were Big Sky powers. He was asked if he intends to stick around for the transition back to the FCS, replying “I am. Looking forward to it.”
Spear also said there are no current plans to cut any sports to accommodate the reduction of football scholarships. He also added “we would love to renew the rivalry with Boise State.” The two teams haven’t met since 2010, and part of the disagreement has been over where to play. With the move to FCS, the Vandals would not host the Broncos, making Boise the only option.
Here is the official statement from Idaho:
The University of Idaho announced today it will accept an invitation to play football in the Big Sky Conference beginning in fall 2018, pending approval by the State Board of Education.
“I understand the magnitude of this decision and the strong opinions that surround it, both for and against, but joining the Big Sky Conference is the best possible course for our athletics program and for our university,” said Chuck Staben, UI president. “We have carefully weighed our options and concluded that competing as an independent with an extremely uncertain future conference affiliation would be irresponsible when we have the alternative of joining one of the most stable FCS conferences. The Big Sky allows us to renew traditional rivalries and offers our athletes the opportunity to excel, just as they do in our other Big Sky sports programs.”
UI was notified by the Sun Belt in March that the conference would move forward with a 10-team league after the 2017 football season, not renewing the membership of UI and New Mexico State University. UI will play in the Sun Belt two more seasons, moving to the Big Sky for the fall 2018 season.
“I know many passionate Vandals view football’s place in the FBS as a mark of our institution’s ‘prestige’ and ‘relevance.’ But we consider prestige and relevance in an institution-wide context,” Staben said. “UI is our state’s land-grant institution, the unquestioned statewide leader in higher education. Success on the football field will complement UI’s prestige and relevance, but we will be defined by our individual and societal impact, measured by the entire student body experience, including our student-athletes; our academic excellence; our research, scholarly and creative success; and our deep engagement with communities across the state. Providing the best student experience for all students, across all aspects of university life is our responsibility and privilege.”
”We are extremely motivated to compete in the Sun Belt for the next two years and then align with like institutions that make geographic sense in the Big Sky Conference that will provide our student-athletes with a quality experience,” said Athletic Director Rob Spear.
“We have two years to position our athletics department to best serve our students and provide the quality co-curricular benefits we expect from Vandal athletics,” Staben said. “We will be successful in the Big Sky Conference and will build a vibrant football culture that is an excellent front porch for our university.”
The University of Idaho played football in the Big Sky Conference from 1965-1995, winning nine conference championships. All UI sports left the Big Sky in 1996, with most other sports other than football returning in 2014. The Vandal football team has played in the Sun Belt since 2014, its second run in the conference since leaving the Big Sky.
For more information visit www.uidaho.edu/bigsky. A video recording of today’s press conference will be available for viewing at this site later today.
Here is some Twitter reaction from current and former Vandals:
Former tight end Justin Podrabsky
Current long snapper Alex Boatman
Current tight end Buck Cowan
Former offensive lineman/NFL player Mark Schlereth