MOSCOW, Idaho – Reverberations from the conference realignment shake-up reached the Western Athletic Conference on Friday, and they were most definitely felt at the University of Idaho.
With Boise State scooting off to the Mountain West Conference – a move set to take place on July 1, 2011 – it appears the annual football clash between BSU and Idaho will go on hiatus until at least 2013.
“We are full through 2012,” UI athletic director Rob Spear said in an e-mail, referring to the Vandals’ nonconference slate. “It will have to be in the future.”
Spear and Vandals football coach Robb Akey strongly expressed their desire for the in-state rivalry to continue. Akey, in fact, said it should be easier to schedule the Broncos with them not in the WAC.
“We’re both going to have conference schedules that we need to play,” Akey said via cell phone from Seattle. “We’re going to both need to play nonconference games, and that would be one less nonconference game that either of us would need to schedule because we count on the rivalry game every year.
“You’ve got a home game every other year, a road trip every other year – that’s one less game you need to worry about getting added on. In my opinion, that makes things a whole lot easier if you commit to it and count on it.”
Boise State’s move ends a brief union of the state’s biggest rivals in the same conference. The Vandals joined the WAC in 2005, and since then the Broncos’ on-the-rise football team has finished first in the league three times and won two BCS games.
Last year, BSU went 14-0 and finished the season ranked fourth, overshadowing the sudden improvement of the long-struggling Vandals.
Spear said he “absolutely” hopes UI will continue playing BSU in football and all other sports once the Broncos are in the MWC. “I think it’s good for our state, it’s good for both institutions,” he said.
The rivalry aside, losing Boise State is a major blow to the WAC. It’s survived substantial membership changes before, but BSU and its Bowl Championship Series bids brought national attention and major revenue to the conference.
“Well, it’s never good to lose any member,” Spear said. “When you lose an institution like Boise State, which has had recent BCS success, it’s not a good thing for our league. But one thing about the Western Athletic Conference, it’s been resilient. They’ve been through this many times before and we will find teams possibly to join the WAC. And what’s happened when teams join the WAC is they become better.”
Karl Benson, the WAC’s commissioner, said in a news release that the conference’s board of directors will start evaluating replacements for Boise State right away. Reports have mentioned Montana, a member of the Big Sky Conference, as a possible candidate.
Akey said the Grizzlies make sense for the WAC geographically. Yet moving from the Football Championship Subdivision (formerly Division I-AA) to the NCAA’s highest division is “quite an expenditure,” the UI coach noted.
Asked about the perception of the WAC now that Boise State is leaving, Akey said, “To really give you an answer on that, we’ve got to see where we are when the dust settles.”
Then he joked: “If Boise is the only team that has left and we replace them with Notre Dame, I think we’re going to be perceived as being a pretty strong conference.”