Things looking dire for the University of Idaho.
Our friend Dave Southorn, of the Idaho Statesman, met with UI President Chuck Staben today. In the talk, the subject of Idaho's current football-only membership in the Sun Belt Conference was addressed and Staben's feelings regarding the football program's future. While conference realignment has been somewhat of a frustrating topic for Boise State Broncos fans, it is massive concern for the likes of Idaho (and New Mexico State University).
Per Southorn's Twitter feed:
Met with Idaho president Chuck Staben today...said no decision on Vandal FB future. Hopes for Sun Belt renewal, considering other options.— Dave Southorn (@IDS_Southorn) January 7, 2016
You may, or may not, remember that Idaho's football-only invitation was actually on a trial basis. From the Idaho student newspaper, The Argonaut:
After a year of independence, both schools joined the Sun Belt as football-only members on a four-year contract. After two years, the other Sun Belt schools will vote to either extend the Vandals’ and Aggies’ membership, or to kick them out while letting them play one final year during the 2016-17 season.
To which, that crucial vote is coming up.
Idaho would be first school to go from FBS to FCS if Sun Belt decides not to extend- league will vote during conference BB tourney (Mar. 10)— Dave Southorn (@IDS_Southorn) January 7, 2016
Back in August, the Sun Belt invited Coastal Carolina to the conference to balance out the other sports that were unbalanced due to Idaho (and New Mexico State's) inclusion. Coastal Carolina will also be moving their football program up to the FBS level. The goal of the eventual Coastal Carolina inclusion in football would also bump them to twelve. That move would be to qualify for the current NCAA rule of having a minimum of twelve teams to get a conference championship game. However that requirement has been up in the air since the Big XII does not necessarily want to expand to match their namesake.
Per Benson, regarding the potential deregulation:
"As we now go forward, and expecting that the NCAA will roll back the policy that requires 12 teams to do a conference football championship game," Benson said, "we are no longer driven by a football championship game when it comes to our future membership. We now need to focus on what is in the best interest of our other sports."
In theory, this would be bad news for the Idaho football program. A conference that is not beholden to a minimum number of teams for football could allow the Sun Belt to drop either Idaho, NMSU, or both. But, as with everything NCAA-related things, nothing necessarily goes easy.
The Big Ten Conference filed a last-minute amendment in November that could prevent the Big 12 from having a conference championship game.
Though it looks as if the status quo for divisions--and champions--will remain as they are currently, Idaho's outlook still is murky. Idaho will be looking toward March 10th with bated breath as their football fate will be in the hands of (mostly) southern schools looking to do what is "best."
OBVIOUS jokes aside, what do you think? Will the Sun Belt keep the University of Idaho, or should UI start making dinner plans with Idaho State?