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Idaho seeks football independence, Big Sky for other sports
The University of Idaho will seek approval Friday from the Idaho State Board of Education to go independent in football and move to the Big Sky Conference in all other sports. According to the Idaho Statesman, UI presented to the board Wednesday in an executive session.
Friday’s meeting will be public, and UI’s conference reshuffling is the only agenda item.
According to a state board document, UI estimates it will generate approximately $1.5 million more annually with game payments by staying in the Football Bowl Subdivision than moving down to the Football Championship Subdivision (formerly Division 1-AA).
Additionally, the report reads, “by scheduling football as an unaffiliated and independent FBS institution, the University retains the ability to react to conference changes should an opportunity appear with an FBS football conference in the future.”
All non-football sports would compete in the Big Sky, where Idaho was a charter member in 1963 and played until 1996. In the report, UI touts the “re-establishment of historic rivalries” with Idaho State, Montana, and Montana State (as well as competing with Eastern Washington) as a way to increase fan interest in Olympic sports, reduce travel costs, and lower the time away from the classroom for athletes.
Both athletic director Rob Spear and UI president Duane Nellis were not made available for comment on Thursday.
With the crumbling of the WAC, Idaho has been weighing its options for more than three months. After being rebuffed by the Mountain West Conference, Idaho set its sights on FBS independence for football, with moving down to the FCS and joining the Big Sky as a fallback option.
But football coach Robb Akey always favored staying in the FBS, and UI clearly wants to wait to see if further conference shakeups create an opening in a conference in the next few years. Spear told the Statesman previously he didn’t see Idaho’s independence “going beyond two years.”
By Josh Wright, The Spokesman-Review
Athletic director Rob Spear quickly put out a statement on Twitter after the Idaho Statesman broke the story to make sure everybody knows nothing is official. “@Rob_Spear: SBOE will vote tomorrow on our request to only EXPLORE independent football and Big Sky membership…nothing official,” the tweet read.