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UI given green light to go independent

UPDATED 6:17 p.m.

The Idaho State Board of Education today approved the University of Idaho's request to become an FBS independent in football and "negotiate and accept" an invite to the Big Sky.

We have more below.


While UI's intent is to only move its Olympic sports to the Big Sky, the board gave Idaho the OK to move football into the BSC as well -- if its efforts to schedule as independent break down. UI athletic director Rob Spear said he's confident he can put together an independent schedule, but that Idaho also wants the flexibility to go to the Big Sky in all sports if necessary.

The board's motion passed on a 5-1 vote. Kenneth Edmunds gave the only dissenting vote, saying he'd prefer that Idaho come back to the board if it wanted to move its football program to the Big Sky.

Chairman Milford Terrell, before voting for the measure, told Spear (he referred to him repeatedly as Rob "Spears") that it will take full cooperation from everyone at UI to make this move work.

"If this passes, you have an awesome responsibility," Terrell said. "You’re going to need your fans to back you up. You’re going to need your alumni to back you up. You’re going to need your students to back you up, to support this issue or it will fail.

"And I want you to know," he added, "that I don’t want anybody to come back and ask for academia money to put into athletic programming, and I also want that to be know that this is going to take full action from everybody from the UI to make this work in my estimation."

Spear, Nellis speak

Two years. That's what Idaho is giving itself to find a long-term home for its football program.

In an afternoon press conference, Spear and Idaho president Duane Nellis made it clear that they expect more changes among big conferences in the next two years -- or a total revamping of the college football structure between first and second tier schools.

What's Idaho's best-case scenario in 2014?

"Well, the best-case scenario to me is a situation where there may be is overall restructuring and some of the schools that we like to play regionally will move up and we’ll find a way to form a second tier," Spear said. "Maybe the big schools break away. ... I know from my conversations with (Doug Fullerton, Big Sky commissioner) that a lot of those schools would love to be in a tier two."

UI has five games scheduled for 2013, including Northern Illinois at home, and Spear said he has contracts pending with three other schools and is in negotiations with two more.

Spear also expects UI will play fellow WAC holdover New Mexico State twice next year in a home-and-home arrangement. The Aggies are likely to be an independent in 2013 after the WAC fell apart as a football league.

The Vandals will play three high-payout games a year to make independence work financially, Spear said. Coach Robb Akey, who didn't speak with the media Friday afternoon, has previously balked at playing more than one money game per year. But that was when Idaho was in a semi-stable conference.

Spear there is "absolutely a concern" with the financial side of the move to independence. But the BCS gives $100,000 per year to independent schools, he said, and the money side pencils out with scheduling high-caliber opponents at their stadiums every year. (The Vandals, for instance, are getting $950,000 from LSU this year.)

"We will be on par with the revenue we would have received by the WAC as a football-playing institution," Spear said.

Other notes:

  • Spear said he has not talked with BYU, another independent, about a new scheduling arrangement. The Vandals played BYU in Provo last year and will travel there again this fall. But BYU has declined to come to Moscow. "One of the reasons why (we haven't talked) is the expectation on my part that if we're going to schedule that game that it will be a home-and-home." Spear said. "And they haven't been willing to do that yet."
  • The Vandals have had "very preliminary" talks with ESPN, which has offered to help with scheduling, and with the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl in having some sort of tie-in. "At a minimum, I think we’re going to be able to sign backup agreements with several bowls," Spear said. "So if we’re bowl eligible, I like our chances of getting ourselves in position of (going) to a bowl."
  • Why did Idaho make this move? A big part has to do with money, of course, but there's another reason: UI isn't yet ready to give up its FBS status after moving up in 1996. "... We certainly want to stay at the FBS table because we think after two years there’s going to be significant change," Spear said. "Now whether that change will happen with additional conference realignment or there is additional restructuring with the whole governance system — and I think you ... can see that happening right now. So I think it’s important for us because of the 16 years we’ve invested in FBS football to stay at the table and see what’s at the end of this two-year cycle. Now, at the end of two years, we may have another decision to make. But I think it’s in the best interest of our institution, our fans and certainly our student-athletes who want to compete at the highest level to stay this course."
  • Asked about the response from boosters and fans, Spear said, "I think it is split. But I think as we communicate this, as move forward, I think they’ll understand. What I’ve always said about the University of Idaho, it’s a Vandal family, and that family will stick with you. And I certainly hope that whatever direction we’ll go, they’ll stay on board."
  • Nellis said UI has tentative plans to address athletic facility upgrades, particularly with a potential multi-event center that would be the site of basketball games. Idaho has also looked into expanding the Kibbie Dome. But ultimately, Nellis said the biggest factor driving conference realignment is TV markets. The Mountain West passed on Idaho largely because of the Vandals' lack of media visibility and geographic isolation. But Nellis disagrees. "We feel like we have a strong Northwest media presence," he said.


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