Conference Expansion: Idaho to Wait for a Call from the MWC

The Western Athletic Conference is folding its tent as a football conference with only two football teams left in the league: Idaho and New Mexico State. The demise of the WAC has forced the two schools to find alternatives for their athletic programs, and it looks like the Idaho Vandals are ready to make a decision on their future today---a future that involves the Mountain West Conference.

The University of Idaho has decided to put their Olympic sports in the Big Sky and pursue independence for their football program in the hope that the Mountain West Conference will be giving them a call within the next two years. The final decision is pending the approval by the Idaho State Board of Education.

Idaho was invited by the Big Sky Conference in all sports earlier this year, but giving up FBS status has been something the university has been reluctant to do. Instead, they have applied to both the Mountain West and Sunbelt conferences for membership only to be turned down. But Idaho is not going to take NO for answer even after the Mountain West Conference commissioner told them emphatically to "go to plan B, wherever that is." Idaho is second-guessing Thompson. They are gambling that if and when the MWC does add one or more teams then Thompson will come knocking. That would be a longshot, considering that New Mexico State with New Mexico already pulling for them, would get that knock first. Further, the MWC would be looking to expand back into the Texas media markets and the fertile recruiting grounds there, not the north Idaho panhandle.

To its credit Idaho is in the midst of adding another 4,000 seats to the Kibbie Dome, bring it up to 20,000 seats. But no matter how many empty seats are added to the Kibbie Dome, the Idaho fan base for home games has been consistently averaging less than 12,800 and they need 15,000 just to meet NCAA requirements.

What also can’t be ignored are their perennial standings near the bottom of the FBS rankings. In the past 10 years of football, Idaho has compiled a record of 28-88, and had only one winning season. That alone, combined with the lack of a media market, and the difficulties and expenses of traveling to Moscow, Idaho would be totally unacceptable to a MWC Board of Presidents that would look at Idaho as just another mouth to feed.

This is not about bashing the University of Idaho and their desire to remain relevant in an FBS world, but about reality. Considering Idaho's size, location and athletic record, being in the Big Sky would be a competitive and economic advantage and a move back to their roots. The Big Sky is a quality conference that wants Idaho, and there is certainly no shame playing teams like Montana, Montana State and Eastern Washington. The only things stopping that appear to be Idaho’s pride and coach Robb Akey's ego.

So far, it looks as if Akey is calling the shots at Moscow. He has repeatedly stated he has no intention of being an FCS coach. But considering his abysmal record at Idaho, maybe Idaho AD Rob Spear needs to stand up to Akey and do what is clearly in the best interest of the university. Either that or the State Board of Education needs to step in and do it for him.
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