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Idaho State Board approves Vandals’ football move to Big Sky

Idaho running back Elijhaa Penny tries to break a tackle against Texas State in a Sun Belt Conference game at the Kibbie Dome in Moscow last season.
Idaho running back Elijhaa Penny tries to break a tackle against Texas State in a Sun Belt Conference game at the Kibbie Dome in Moscow last season.

It did not need any discussion — the State Board of Education approved the University of Idaho’s request for its football team to move to the Big Sky Conference in 2018.

The State Board met Wednesday in Boise, and one key item was the Vandals’ potential move. Brought up for discussion, there was none, and the move was unanimously approved.

In documents provided to the board, Idaho officials wrote: “The UI estimates funding for competitive Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) play to be $4-6 million annually, not including facility upgrades required to be considered by an FBS conference. The Vandal Sports Fund (boosters) funding for Vandal Athletics has hovered under $2 million for the last 10 years. Meeting the financial obligations of competitive FBS play is not realistic. On the revenue side, while UI won’t play big money FBS games, it also will not have the obligation to financially sustain FBS level of financial support. Scholarship levels will be reduced to the appropriate number over the next two years and UI anticipates that will balance its Title IX requirements. Travel costs will be reduced significantly. We do not anticipate reducing other sports.”

The Vandals announced April 28 their intent to make the move down from the Football Bowl Subdivision ranks to the Football Championship Subdivision. It is the first move of its kind, as any previous drops from FBS (formerly Division I-A) to FCS (I-AA) were prompted by NCAA mandates. The Big Sky, in a letter to Idaho made available in the State Board information, said current schools have obligations “that limit the flexibility of an immediate full conference schedule,” which outgoing commissioner Doug Fullerton told the Idaho Statesman in January was a possibility. Idaho currently has four nonconference game scheduled for 2018 (at Fresno State, Florida and Northern Illinois, and home against Wyoming).

On March 1, the Sun Belt said it will not renew its football-only membership to Idaho and New Mexico State after the 2017 season. Idaho’s other sports are in the Big Sky already, moving there in 2014. New Mexico State said recently it plans to remain in the FBS as an independent, which Idaho deemed too expensive and too risky.

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