There was a time when Idaho controlled the state board of education, most of the legislature, and most importantly, the football series with Boise State. Those days are long past. With more balance in state funding, and surges in enrollment favoring the Broncos, Idaho's halcyon days are a distant memory. Virtually every move the school has made in the last 15 years has been to try to keep pace with the meteoric rise of the Bronco program, and now we can unequivocally say that was a fool's errand. Without the resources and boosters willing to throw money at a losing venture, the university has stagnated athletically...yielding just one winning season since 2000. They can't keep a coach, they can't fill their pitifully woeful stadium capacity, but they've allowed themselves to continue to dream the impossible dream. Well, that dream may mercifully be at an end as it appears the Sun Belt Conference is "throwing the V" and booting the Vandals from the conference.
The SBC was always more of a stop-gap for Idaho and New Mexico State, as the league allowed the vagabonds to settle their football programs there as they tried to find a permanent home. Idaho dumped all the rest of their sports in the Big Sky...their natural geographic and competitive fit, but football continued to stir imaginations in Moscow. Independence just makes no sense for a school like Idaho, who sits in a recruiting cold-bed and has no remaining geographic or historical rivals at the FBS level. Idaho president Chuck Staben (yes, Idaho's president is named "Staben" and their AD is named "Spear"...sharp couple of fellas) intimated that independence wasn't off the table after his roundly panned Powerpoint presentation to the SBC. Staben's pitch, essentially, to the SBC was that yes, perhaps Idaho football was terrible, but not much less terrible than the conference's median. A bold gambit, and one that now looks like it did not pay off. Make no mistake, independence—while technically marginally more lucrative for the university in terms of sheer bodybag money games at their disposal, is not a viable long term option and would only exacerbate their gridiron floundering unless they received a desperate lifeline. That lifeline has been extended by the FCS Big Sky (remember, home to the rest of Idaho's athletic programs), but would Idaho be able to clear the final hurdle toward Big Sky membership—their massive egos that live in 1988? We shall see.
A drop from FBS back to the FCS is somewhat uncharted territory, and is definitely messy due to the fact that Idaho would lose 20 athletic scholarships in football (85 to 65). Obviously, this scholarship cut could trickle down to other sports and change the landscape a bit at the university. But maybe that's exactly what Idaho needs...a fresh start. As humorous as the reversal of fortune is for long-time Bronco fans, I have to say that a move back to FCS could restore some pride back in the Palouse. Staben seems to think that FBS is the most attractive destination, but if it's so much better, why haven't Northwest FCS powers like Montana made the jump? Because Montana knows who they are...and if it takes SBC rejection to finally show Idaho who they are, then I suppose I can grudgingly root for the Vandals again. Not to win or anything, but to, you know...exist.