MOSCOW – Idaho fans will no longer be arguing over speculation of whether it’s better to stay FBS or drop to the FCS level and the Big Sky Conference. Instead, they’ll get to quibble over the decided trajectory of the University of Idaho football program.
President Chuck Staben, athletic director Rob Spear and football coach Paul Petrino will meet with the media Thursday morning and are expected to announce they’ve accepted an invitation to join the Big Sky in football beginning in 2018.
FootballScoop.com first reported the move. The Idaho Statesman later confirmed it, citing sources.
Idaho will play out its final two years as a Sun Belt Conference member, which recently voted to not extend Idaho’s football-only membership past the 2017 season.
The Vandals compete in the Big Sky in all sports but swimming and diving, which competes in the Western Athletic Conference.
The Big Sky recently re-extended a standing invitation to Idaho to join which expires on May 4. The conference already has 13 members participating in football, including Eastern Washington, Montana and Montana State.
The only other option would be FBS independence, which Idaho tried in 2013 before landing in the Sun Belt on a four-year deal as a football-only member. While possible, it is considered a difficult route. The Vandals played three ‘Power Five’ opponents in 2013 to make the budget work. Idaho also still owes five road games to fulfill home-and-home contracts to all of its home opponents from that season.
“Independent is a very difficult status,” Staben said after the Sun Belt voted not to retain Idaho. “We will evaluate options. We’ve been independent before. It’s not an easy way to schedule your games and maintain a program and ensure stability, so that will be a factor in our consideration.”
An unprecedented move to the Big Sky and the FCS level only leads to more questions. Football scholarships will drop from 85 to 63 and revenues will drop, from conference media revenue to guarantee payments from ‘Power Five’ opponents.
Idaho projects to break even on its $20,247,000 expenditure as an athletic department in 2016, per an Idaho State Board of Education document. That includes $2,100,000 in game guarantees from the football program. FCS programs see significantly less money in guarantees.
It’s also unknown if Idaho will cut a women’s sport, such as swimming and diving or soccer, which only came into existence to support Idaho’s move to FBS in 1996. Prior to 1996, the Vandals were members of the Big Sky Conference.
Subscribe to the sports newsletter
Get the day’s top sports headlines and breaking news delivered to your inbox by subscribing here.