The day it happens will be quiet in Moscow. Most students will be long gone — doing whatever it is that they do over the summer.
But for the Idaho athletic department July 1 will be the day that Idaho officially dives into a new era of both short-term stability and long term uncertainty.
Idaho will officially join the Sun Belt Conference that day as a football-only member on a four-year guarantee beginning in the 2014-15 season and running through the 2017-18 season.
After the 2015-16 season, Idaho’s second in the league, the Sun Belt Conference board of governors will meet to decide whether to extend Idaho’s football-only agreement beyond 2017-18.
It’s a setup that Idaho athletic director Rob Spear said gives both Idaho and the Sun Belt flexibility in a college football landscape that both parties expect to continue to evolve.
“They want to have an idea of what’s going to happen,” Spear said. “I think by then there may be some information on if the four-team college football playoff goes to eight teams. Obviously they probably want to look at how our football team is progressing and the competitiveness of it. I would be surprised if they didn’t.”
A lot of the unknowns stems from last January’s NCAA Convention, in which a new governance structure was proposed that many feel gives the “Power five” conferences more power, and would further grow the distance between them and the lesser “group of five” conferences.
A number of scenarios could play out, including one that could mean a new FBS conference in the West. Further off in the future Spear speculates that could mean a definitive break-off between the power conferences and the lower conferences which combines FBS and FCS into three separate tiers, with Spear believing that Idaho would belong in the second tier.
“There’s a lot of noise in the system, as I would describe it still with the whole governance thing up in the air and will soon come to a resolution,” he said. “I think it’s going to benefit the five big conferences. We need to see how that shakes out and whether or not there (are) any repercussions from that. So the four-year agreement I think seems like the right timeframe for me, for us.”
Some speculation has centered around Big Sky football programs looking for a way into the FBS. When asked what he’s heard on that front, Spear responded: “Nothing.”
The new NCAA governance structure could make it more difficult for FCS teams to transition into FBS. In the Sun Belt Conference alone, Appalachian State, Georgia Southern and Georgia State have all made the transition within the last two seasons.
“I think that all ties together, what’s happened with the governance, what’s going to happen with how you transition from FCS to FBS. All of that is going to play in the future of all conferences,” Spear said. “I do know the Big Sky feels good about FCS football. They talk about the top tier of FCS football is as good as the bottom tier of FBS football and I guess I can’t argue … Which is why I think there’s room for another tier, which would be the top end of the FCS and the bottom end of the FBS, would make a great structure and a great tier.”
Sean Kramer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org