University of Idaho Director of Athletics Rob Spear said the Vandal athletic program made its case to be admitted to the Mountain West Conference but ultimately was rejected, leaving it as only one of two remaining football schools in the Western Athletic Conference, which has been pilfered by the MWC and Conference USA in recent days.
"We are disappointed we were not considered for membership in the Mountain West Conference. We put together a strong case for the University of Idaho," Spear said in a prepared statement to open a teleconference with the media on Friday. "... Despite this disappointment, we are not going to be bitter. We are going to face this adversity head on and pick ourselves up and dust ourselves off and move forward. The University of Idaho has always been resilient and we won't stop now."
Unfortunately for Idaho, options appear to be limited. Spear said the university is evaluating four possible scenarios for the athletic department, three of which would keep the Idaho football program at the Football Bowl Series level, either by pursuing a full membership in an FBS conference, playing football in a separate FBS conference while working with existing WAC membership on rebuilding the league as a non-football conference, or going independent in football. Spear said the university will also review the feasibility of dropping down a level and competing at the Football Championship Series level where it would presumably return to the Big Sky.
The preference, at least for now, is to remain at the FBS level, and joining the MWC would be ideal for Idaho, Spear said, however, the conference appears to be turned off by Idaho's lack of television market.
"As you know as well as I do, everything right now is based on television and television revenue," Spear said. "We made the case that we have a great presence in the Northwest. I think we can get into a million and half households, but the Mountain West did not think that was enough."
Spear didn't have a time line on when a decision would be made regarding Idaho's future, mainly due to the uncertainty that is still permeating through college football. How the landscape will appear in two years is anyone's guess. The potential for a football final four could lead to dramatic changes in the bowl system, and with the hiring of a new commissioner, the Big 12 could be poised to poach teams from rival conferences such as the Big East, causing another major round of realignment.
"There are a lot of moving parts here and it's not done," Spear said ... "There are a lot of moving parts, and we are going to do our evaluations and make sure we make the right decision for the University of Idaho."
With that in mind, Spear isn't completely ready to write off Idaho's chances of eventually joining the MWC.
"There's always a chance," Spear said. "This conference reshuffling is going to continue on and I still think we haven't seen the end of it and you'll see a lot more movement in the future."
As for Idaho's backup plans, Spear said he has had conversations with other conferences about Idaho's future, although he declined to give specifics. He said that the university has not had direct conversations with the Sun Belt, but it could be a possible fit with Idaho being a former conference member and Tom Benson, the WAC's former commissioner, acting as the head of the conference. Going independent in football could prove tricky, as the NCAA mandates at least five home games a season.
Spear said he has received mixed feedback from alumni regarding Idaho's future and whether to remain as an FBS team or drop to the FCS level.
"I haven't been around campus but I have had a series of emails, believe me. People are concerned about the University of Idaho and the future. What I told them is the University of Idaho has been resilient and we will continue to be resilient," Spear said. "Whatever the final outcome is, the University of Idaho is going to be fine.