Independence, just do it
While Director of Athletics Rob Spear and President M. Duane Nellis continue to “explore” playing independent football, one foot is in the door and it’s safe to say the other will follow within the next two weeks.
Joining the likes of Notre Dame and BYU sounds intimidating, as does the possibility of scheduling more than three BCS-caliber opponents in one season.
Vandal nation can’t come to a collective decision whether or not independence is the ideal solution; some would like to call the Big Sky Conference home. I would agree with those people, but solely for Olympic sports.
From a competition standpoint, the win-loss column will be more attractive with a Football Championship Subdivision schedule, but how much more attractive?
The BSC is arguably the toughest FCS conference in the land but “league-bound” players who eye the next level will transfer in a heartbeat, seeking Division 1 football. One could also argue that recruits from Texas and California won’t put UI, now a second-tier program, on their college shortlist.
The constantly changing, highly unpredictable college football landscape will undoubtedly hit us with more conference realignment throughout the next five years. It’s not plausible to downgrade to FCS football and expect an invite into an Football Bowl Subdivision conference in the near future.
Remaining an FBS program is valuable to the athletic department for a number of reasons.
With independence, Idaho is guaranteed $100,000 per year. In addition, the revenue generated from our guaranteed “money games” helps the athletic department function to the best of its ability. Idaho will receive nearly $2 million from LSU, North Carolina and BYU this season. As an FCS program, Idaho may be fortunate to schedule one money game per year.
The revenue UI generates could also be crucial for Spear and Nellis’ six-year plan, which includes the potential of a brand new events center, along with Kibbie Dome expansions. Donors can only provide so much.
Though Idaho would preserve travel costs and renew regional rivalries as a Big Sky program, it has worked effortlessly to remain a mainstay at the FBS level for 16 years. Those efforts would be discarded with the move down.
If the two-year independent option fails, BSC commissioner Doug Fullerton would once again welcome Idaho with open arms. If it triumphs, the master plan will have succeeded and Idaho will play in an FBS conference.
Taking the road less traveled is the avenue our athletic department leans toward, and for good reason. It proves to be the most viable option competitively, as the football team will continue to bring Division 1 talent into the Kibbie Dome. It leaves us with the opportunity to schedule a full slate of independent opponents, meaning anywhere from three to four money games per year.
Most importantly, it’s the most ideal long-term solution if and when conference realignment provides Idaho with a permanent answer.
Though Rob Spear won’t appear on ESPN to announce “The Decision”, it is sure to cause further controversy amongst Vandal fans. Within two weeks time, Spear will hopefully have a full schedule announced and Idaho and New Mexico State can become the little brothers of college football independence.
Theo Lawson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org