MOSCOW, Idaho – Two summers ago, after Boise State announced its departure from the Western Athletic Conference, Idaho athletic director Rob Spear emphasized the resiliency of the conference. Through all the turmoil, it always found ways to stay intact.
On Friday, Spear shifted gears. With the WAC possibly in its final year as an FBS football conference, he still presented a reassuring message to the media.
But this time it was about the school he represents – not the league that the Vandals have been apart of since 2005.
“People are concerned about the University of Idaho and its future,” Spear said. “But what I have told them is that the University of Idaho is resilient, we will continue to be resilient and we’re going to land on our feet regardless of what happens.
“Whatever the final outcome is, the University of Idaho is going to be fine.”
Utah State and San Jose State officially accepted invitations to the Mountain West Conference on Friday, leaving the WAC with two football-playing members in 2013-14 – UI and New Mexico State.
Louisiana Tech and future member Texas-San Antonio have bolted for Conference USA, while Texas State and Texas-Arlington – other schools set to join the WAC – are jumping to the Sun Belt.
The mass defections in the last week have left Idaho scrambling for a home for its athletic programs. Spear said it’s possible the WAC could reorganize as a non-football conference, but UI’s first preference is to have all its programs in one FBS league.
The Vandals will also evaluate going independent in football with their other programs in one conference or moving down to the FCS level and rejoining the Big Sky.
Spear has talked with Big Sky commissioner Doug Fullerton in the last week, but he described the conversation as “strictly philosophical.”
“We (will) take a look of the feasibility of FCS and its long-term vision, how that’s going to evolve if the future restructuring occurs,” said Spear, noting that he expects the five biggest FBS conferences to split off on their own in the next two years.
Since the Mountain West bypassed UI, Spear has received an immense amount of feedback from alumni. He said the emails and calls have been split between those who want Idaho to stay at the FBS level and those who prefer a move back to the Big Sky.
The Vandals left the FCS (then I-AA) ranks in 1996 and have since performed in the Big West, Sun Belt and WAC.
Spear said part of the athletic department’s evaluation will include looking at the financial ramifications of moving down a level. If the Vandals stay in the FBS and go independent, they are required to have at least five home football games per year – a hurdle that could be tricky given that the Kibbie Dome holds just 16,000.
Spear said there’s “always a chance” the Mountain West asks UI to join, and that’s clearly the top option. For now, Idaho’s best hope to stay in the FBS and keep all its programs together appears to be in the Sun Belt, which is led by former WAC commissioner Karl Benson.
Idaho’s A.D. said he’s talked with almost every league commissioner outside the Pac-12 – often not about membership – and he expects to have conversations with Benson soon.
Regarding the Mountain West, Spear told The Spokesman-Review he was never given official word that UI had been passed over. Instead, he came to that conclusion last week when reports came out that the MWC was going with Utah State and San Jose State.
The reason was clear enough.
“It was emphasized that we don’t have enough televisions in our market area,” Spear said. “You know as well as I do, everything is based on television and television revenues.”