MOSCOW, Idaho – A week before the University of Idaho announced that it would become the first school to drop from the highest level of college football, athletic director Rob Spear wanted to delay the process.
Spear drafted an email to UI president Chuck Staben in which he wrote that an announcement the school was moving to the Big Sky Conference would “tremendously impact fundraising” and overshadow the football team’s progress and spring sport championships, according to emails obtained by the Lewiston Tribune through a public records request.
Spear sent the email to himself, not Staben. On April 28, Staben announced at a news conference that the Vandals would move from the Football Bowl Subdivision to the lower-tier Football Championship Subdivision and join the Big Sky in 2018. He was joined at the news conference by Spear and football coach Paul Petrino.
In an interview last week with the Tribune, Spear stood by the sentiments he expressed in his email.
“At the time I thought a delayed announcement was important to allow us to focus on season ticket sales and fiscal year-end fundraising,” Spear said.
Spear told the Spokesman-Review on Wednesday that the Vandals’ fundraising and ticket sales have declined since the announcement.
Asked how noticeable the drop has been, he said, “Any drop’s significant, but it hurts. Enough to hurt.” He declined to specify how much donations and ticket sales have dipped.
The decision to leave the FBS after 20 years caused a rift among Idaho fans and boosters. Some praised Staben for trying to making the program more competitive and encourage regional rivalries in the Big Sky. The Vandals have had just one winning season since 2000.
The majority of Idaho fans, though, panned the move. Among the dissenters were current players and parents of players who publicly expressed their displeasure after the announcement, criticism that Spear said he understands.
“I’d say roughly 75 percent (of fans) have seemed to support this move,” he told the Spokesman-Review. “They’re more a silent majority. And there’s 25 percent that committed a lot of resources to keep Idaho FBS, and they’re not happy about it. And I understand their frustration. So they have, a lot of them have stopped buying tickets and stopped funding the program.
“Hopefully they’ll come back someday. We’ll get ourselves situated and we have stability and hopefully we have success and they’ll come back and support the program.”
The Tribune also found through its public records request correspondence between Spear and Western Athletic Conference commissioner Jeff Hurd about resurrecting the WAC as an FBS league that would include Idaho and current Big Sky schools.
“The WAC has traction and I look forward to influencing the Big Sky from within,” Spear wrote in an email to Hurd. “I know I can convince Montana and Montana State to jump…we need to lock arms with them. And a bowl win changes everything! I know our kids will be motivated!”
He told the Tribune last week that the NCAA would likely not be excited about creating another league and splitting revenue among more teams.
“Whatever Idaho does in the future, I think it is important that we align with Montana and Montana State,” Spear said.
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