MOSCOW, Idaho – The common joke on Twitter Saturday morning, after Idaho announced that the NCAA had slapped its football program with a 2014 bowl ban, was the Vandals didn’t need to be ineligible to be out of the running for the postseason.
Idaho is coming off consecutive 1-11 seasons and has dropped 39 games over the last four dark years. The Vandals have advanced to just two bowls in nearly two decades of FBS existence.
Pretty bleak, right?
Sure, but that same hopelessness couldn’t be felt around the Kibbie Dome this spring. The Vandals have two promising young quarterbacks, better weapons at the skill positions than they’ve had in years and more playmakers on defense.
They look ready to take a sizable step in year two of Paul Petrino’s tenure. But because they failed to meet Academic Progress Rate standards, they won’t qualify for a bowl until 2015 and they’ll lose out on four hours of practice each week this season.
“We’ve made so many big strides,” Petrino said. “And the players know it. You can’t fool the players – they know when you’re getting better. … So we’re just going to have a great attitude about it and be positive. Move forward and get better.”
The Idaho athletic department went public with the news in a press release on Saturday morning, followed by an impromptu news conference that came 12 hours after the football team wrapped up spring practice.
The APR scores that led to the football sanctions were 971 in 2009, 921 in 2010, 881 in 2011 and 838 in 2012 – all under former coach Robb Akey’s watch – for a four-year average of 903. Teams must stay above a rolling average of 930 (out of 1,000) to avoid penalties.
UI received final word of the penalties on Thursday after a lengthy appeal process failed to persuade the NCAA from altering its decision.
Petrino met with the team early Saturday, and said he’s had individual and group meetings with Idaho’s seniors – all of whom are free to transfer to other schools as long as they didn’t lose points in the APR during their careers.
Petrino mentioned wide receiver Dezmon Epps, center Mike Marboe and defensive end Maxx Forde. “They’re all Vandals. They’re all 100 percent with us.”
“From what I came out of this morning’s meeting is I feel all the seniors will return,” Petrino said.
After the NCAA notified Idaho of the program’s APR issues in November, UI started its first appeal in January, athletic director Rob Spear said. The school then went back to the NCAA in a formal meeting less than two weeks ago.
UI cited three “extraordinary” mitigating circumstances: conference upheaval, a loss of almost $1 million in revenue (mostly TV and conference money) and what it termed as “significant behavioral issues within the football program.”
The football program is moving back to the Sun Belt Conference after the Western Athletic Conference collapsed as a football-playing league. UI was an FBS independent in 2013.
“I thought we made a compelling case regarding the extraordinary circumstances that began in June 2010,” Spear said. ”At the end of the day, we accept the penalties and have used this adversity to make our athletic program stronger.”
Petrino, who took over in December 2012, said the Vandals have already shown progress in the classroom after taking what Spear termed “aggressive action.” The team is projected to have an APR of 960 for 2013.
“Much of the success is directly related to the discipline and quality that Coach Petrino has brought to this football program,” Spear said.
Said Petrino: “My commitment to education mirrors my commitment to football. Our players will attend class. They will graduate. They will value and take advantage of the educational opportunities they are being given. It’s unfortunate that the players who are here now and are working hard, going to class and doing things right, are paying the penalty for the past.”
Petrino said the Vandals will reduce their Sunday practices and film review from four hours to one hour, and also cut 30 minutes from Wednesday and Thursday practices. They’ve already added a two-hour study hall on Sundays that will last through the season.
“It’s a very stiff penalty,” he said of losing the practice time each week.