Twice the independence—Kibbie Dome clash a battle of the conference-less
The two programs that will face off Saturday in the Kibbie Dome are near mirror images of each other. The similarities between the programs start with their former Pac-10 defensive coordinator head coaches and end with both teams being the only in the WAC without an FBS victory.
Coincidentally, these are also the only two teams in the WAC without a conference home for next season. Then there are the athletic directors of both schools announcing plans to go independent in 2013.
It was those points that the two coaches discussed last May when New Mexico State coach DeWayne Walker was in Moscow to watch his daughter compete at the WAC Outdoor Track and Field Championships.
“We were talking about what goes on,” Idaho coach Robb Akey said. “We’re both fighting some similar battles in a lot of ways.”
Those battles stem from the lack of success the last decade, lack of what is considered an acceptable media market and lack of facilities — and the money available to commit to facilities. Las Cruces and the Palouse just don’t stack up, according to the Mountain West at least.
“I know a lot of people may try to read into this (match-up)… It’s kind of amazing — the two teams that are struggling are the two teams that are trying to find a conference,” Walker said. “It is what it is … We need to focus on 2012.”
Deflecting the focus to 2012 is what both coaches chose to do.
“A win is everything. That matters more than anything,” Akey said. “Decisions on getting invitations to homes were made before this season ever kicked off.”
Idaho and New Mexico State are going to see lots of each other in the near future. Idaho athletic director Rob Spear has confirmed plans for the schools to play a home-and-home in 2013 — as in, play twice in one year. Desperate times call for desperate measures. Even Notre Dame is concerned about its ability to schedule in the future, which led to its partnership with the ACC.
On the more positive end of the spectrum, the WAC has La. Tech, Utah State and San Jose State, who have all found homes within Conference-USA and the Mountain West, respectively. Those teams have combined for two losses, by a combined five points – Utah State at Wisconsin by two and San Jose State at Stanford by three.
It’s probably not much of a coincidence that those programs have recently poured money into building facilities and capitalizing on home media markets.
The trajectory of Idaho and New Mexico State will depend on how the schools can navigate through the desired path of independence. Multiple factors include the balance between money-guarantee games and winnable match-ups, the approval of the fan base for gate receipts and donor support and the effect the move will have on recruiting.
Akey said that some players on the current team are concerned about the situation.
“If a guy comes up and wants to talk about something, I’m going to certainly answer them,” Akey said. “Certainly there’s going to be some of my younger guys … that are returning that are going to have some questions, and I’m going to be honest with them and answer everything we can.”
Sean Kramer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org