After the WAC officially fell apart last week with Texas State, Utah State, San Jose State and Texas-San Antonio all finding new leagues, Idaho and New Mexico State were left as the only two football schools in the WAC.
The options for both schools are limited, but especially so for Idaho.
So, Big Sky commissioner Doug Fullerton, who has been courting the Vandals for the past year, extended a lifeline to keep Idaho's athletic department afloat albeit in the FCS.
"Playing at the top of the FCS is a better situation than playing at the bottom of the FBS," Fullerton told the Idaho Statesman on Monday. "The success and fan base and excitement you can do (by) staying regional is what college athletics are supposed to be about, unless you can play at the national level."
Fullerton told the paper he's been in communication with Idaho athletic director Rob Spear and will talk again this week.
The move makes sense for Idaho on so many levels. The WAC is gone and there are no regional suitors knocking on the Vandals' door. The school doesn't have the budget, facilities or fan support to warrant a move to a bigger conference.
He (Fullerton) said athletic departments that raise money from their fan base, booster support, fans at the game and media rights are doing it in a healthy way. Departments that rely on student fees and game guarantees are not stable.
Idaho is playing a number football road games with big paydays in future seasons, including games at Florida, Auburn and LSU.
He said Idaho could shave $3 million to $5 million from its athletic budget by moving to the Big Sky, lessening the need to play those types of payday games. Those savings would come from fewer scholarships in football and women's sports and from lower coaching salaries. Idaho, he said, could then reinvest that money into other programs.
Bottom line is Idaho is running out of options. The post on Idaho president Duane Nellis' Facebook page told the story:
"It is clear from my many conversations with presidents and conference commissioners from across the country including many representing conferences in the west—the key variable for adding new teams is immediate media market. The fact that we are currently atop the WAC Commissioners Cup, have great success in student athlete graduation, are a top quality academic institution, and have invested and continue to invest in athletic facilities at our university seems to mean nothing.
"As you well know TV networks like ESPN are now running major college athletic affiliations not the NCAA."
Yes, going back to the FCS can be seen as a demoralizing step for a program that worked hard to get to the FBS, but Idaho is going to have to swallow its pride and do what's right for the preservation of its athletics.
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