U of I Moving Football to Big Sky Conference
Big Sky Commissioner Doug Fullerton expresses his delight in UI decision
“The Big Sky Conference is excited about the University of Idaho joining the league in football. We think that, given Idaho’s DNA of excellence, they will make our football programs better, and our football product better.”
MOSCOW, Idaho – April 28, 2016 – The University of Idaho announced today it will accept an invitation to play football in the Big Sky Conference beginning in fall 2018, pending approval by the State Board of Education.
“I understand the magnitude of this decision and the strong opinions that surround it, both for and against, but joining the Big Sky Conference is the best possible course for our athletics program and for our university,” said Chuck Staben, UI president. “We have carefully weighed our options and concluded that competing as an independent with an extremely uncertain future conference affiliation would be irresponsible when we have the alternative of joining one of the most stable FCS conferences. The Big Sky allows us to renew traditional rivalries and offers our athletes the opportunity to excel, just as they do in our other Big Sky sports programs.”
UI was notified by the Sun Belt in March that the conference would move forward with a 10-team league after the 2017 football season, not renewing the membership of UI and New Mexico State University. UI will play in the Sun Belt two more seasons, moving to the Big Sky for the fall 2018 season.
“I know many passionate Vandals view football’s place in the FBS as a mark of our institution’s ‘prestige’ and ‘relevance.’ But we consider prestige and relevance in an institution-wide context,” Staben said. “UI is our state’s land-grant institution, the unquestioned statewide leader in higher education. Success on the football field will complement UI’s prestige and relevance, but we will be defined by our individual and societal impact, measured by the entire student body experience, including our student-athletes; our academic excellence; our research, scholarly and creative success; and our deep engagement with communities across the state. Providing the best student experience for all students, across all aspects of university life is our responsibility and privilege.”
”We are extremely motivated to compete in the Sun Belt for the next two years and then align with like institutions that make geographic sense in the Big Sky Conference that will provide our student-athletes with a quality experience,” said Athletic Director Rob Spear.
“We have two years to position our athletics department to best serve our students and provide the quality co-curricular benefits we expect from Vandal athletics,” Staben said. “We will be successful in the Big Sky Conference and will build a vibrant football culture that is an excellent front porch for our university.”
The University of Idaho played football in the Big Sky Conference from 1965-1995, winning nine conference championships. All UI sports left the Big Sky in 1996, with most other sports other than football returning in 2014. The Vandal football team has played in the Sun Belt since 2014, its second run in the conference since leaving the Big Sky.
A video recording of today’s press conference will be available for viewing on this site later today.
After the Sun Belt decided in early 2016 to move forward with a 10-team league beginning in 2018, UI had two choices:
- Play Independent FBS, until achieving conference affiliation
- Play Big Sky, FCS
UI studied the options, discussed them with stakeholders, reviewed financial data and make a sound decision based on what is best for student-athletes, the student body and for the UI as a whole.
- Took input (email, phone, in person conversations, social media)
- Discussed scenarios with the internal UI team
- Assessed the viability of all aspects of Independent and Big Sky decisions
- No. UI leadership considered seriously both options.
- UI chose the stability of the Big Sky conference rather than following the faint hope of conference reorganizations.
- The Big Sky choice reflects a commitment to provide our student-athletes fair competition and the opportunity to succeed each time they step on the field.
UI will play football in the Sun Belt through the 2017 season, beginning to play in the Big Sky Conference in the fall 2018.
- Success on the football field will complement the prestige and relevance of our leading, national research university. Our individual and societal impact will define us, measured by the entire student body experience, including our student-athletes; our academic excellence; our research, scholarly and creative success; and our deep engagement with communities across the state.
- We will create an outstanding student-athlete and community-wide experience around our program, a vibrant football culture that provides a great front porch for Idaho’s leading, national research university, a draw for future students and a continued source of pride for current students.
- Our students support a residential campus with all it has to offer. Student-led approval of a student fee specifically for a new basketball arena shows a desire to have quality facilities for our athletic programs.
- UI is the leader in research and outreach in our state. We are proud to offer students a great student experience – from undergraduate research to a lively campus life. A quality, right-sized football program is a part of that. A well-rounded student experience will bring more students to our campus.
- By playing regional schools, UI is better poised to recruit from the communities in which we play.
- Football is a source of pride and enthusiasm for students and alumni. Football done well is an engaging factor in the reputation of a university. After 20 years of limited success at the FBS level, it is time to own our future and succeed.
- Long-term, having no FBS conference affiliation option is problematic for recruitment, for rivalries that students and other fans get excited about, and poses little to no financial advantage.
- Continued instability will not help us build a program, and it holds back the university as a whole. Full membership in the Big Sky conference means we have a voice in all conference decisions and a seat at the table next to similar institutions in our geographic region. It is time to make this move.
- Many of our donors have been polled and appreciate the position UI is in. They understand our options and know that joining the Big Sky can be a positive benefit to the program and the university. They are Vandals through and through and, as such, will continue their support.
- Support from the Vandal Scholarship Fund has hovered below $2 million for the last 10 years. We estimate needing $6 million per year plus major facility improvements to remain competitive at the FBS level.
- There is no doubt collegiate athletics, especially football, have become a money game in which only a handful of top schools are able to make money. All others lose money. UI is able, through this move, to right-size our football program and provide the best student experience – for student-athletes and student fans.
- UI’s prestige and relevance is measured institution-wide. Football complements our academic achievements: We are the state’s leader in higher education.
Playing competitively in the FBS is a $6 million annual investment. That is not sustainable.
- UI has two years to analyze and determine the best way to adapt our programs to fit this new model. No decisions have been made.
- Our women’s teams are leading the way athletically and in the classroom. We will continue to build on their success.
No. We know the Big Sky Conference is the right place for Vandal football to thrive.
- No. We have had much success in athletics – including a trip to the NCAA basketball tournament, soccer and golf titles this academic year.
- Overall our athletics program has been quite successful and this move will position our strong football program to enjoy similar success and our students to have the best experience – on and off the field.
President Staben’s Statement
Football Conference Affiliation Press Conference
April 28, 2016
Thank you for joining us. With me are UI Athletic Director Rob Spear and Head Football Coach Paul Petrino.
I announce today the University of Idaho Vandal football team will accept an invitation to join the Big Sky Conference, pending State Board of Education approval, starting in fall 2018.
While I understand the magnitude of this decision and the strong opinions that surround it, I am confident the Big Sky Conference is the best possible choice for our football program and our student-athletes.
Moving football to the Big Sky is also the right choice for our students, for academic excellence and for the long-term success and stature of the University of Idaho. We are, first and foremost, the state's leading residential and research university.
The University of Idaho’s prestige and relevance will be complemented by our football program, not defined by it. We will be defined by the institution-wide success of our individual and societal impacts, measured by our entire student body experience, our academic and research impact and our statewide engagement.
While the passion and dedication of our student-athletes has been consistently strong, UI has always been one of the lowest-resourced FBS teams and therefore has struggled to achieve a winning record during our time in the FBS. To become successful enough to affiliate with any FBS conference would entail unjustifiable, unsustainable expenditures. Competing as an independent with an extremely uncertain conference affiliation would be irresponsible when we have the alternative of joining one of the most stable FCS conferences.
Big Sky allows us to renew traditional rivalries and offers our athletes the opportunity to excel at an appropriate level of competition, just as they do in our other Big Sky sports programs. Conference stability is important to the future of Vandal Athletics. We can’t provide stability by “hoping” another conference will ask us to join them, or that an FBS conference “might” be realigned in the future to better fit UI.
UI has a long history of success on and off the field as part of the Big Sky Conference. Playing geographically similar schools allows for exciting, successful football, much like we have seen in our other athletic programs.
Finally, we have spent a significant amount of time considering our football conference options - in fact, the right football conference affiliation for UI was something I was asked about during my interview process over two years ago. Since the Sun Belt announced in March that it would move forward with a 10-team league, we have engaged in dialogue with stakeholders statewide, listened to opinions on all sides of the question and analyzed the input. Joining the stability of the Big Sky Conference will provide our student-athletes with the greatest experience and path to success.
Providing the best possible experience for all UI students, across all aspects of university life, is our responsibility and privilege. Moving to the Big Sky is the right decision for the University of Idaho and for our football program. I am encouraged by the enthusiasm and dedication in our football program and am confident we are ready to move forward.
We’d be happy to stand for questions.