Vandals chart their immediate future

Saturday , October 20, 2012 - 2:35 PM

Troy Warzocha

It took maybe a little longer than expected, but the Idaho Vandals have finally set a course for the immediate future.

Exactly nine weeks after announcing that the program was going to explore football independence as well as entertain the thought of moving the rest of its sports to the Big Sky Conference, Idaho is no longer exploring nor pondering.

In a news conference on Friday, UI President Duane Nellis and athletic director Rob Spear unveiled the Vandals’ 2013 independent Football Bowl Subdivision schedule and also declared that all nonfootball sports would rejoin the Big Sky in July of 2014.

"I think it was very important to finalize both in order to move our athletic programs forward," Spear said.

The football schedule, which was released moments before the news conference began, is a full 12-game slate - with five of them being played at the Kibbie Dome.

Idaho will open the season with two road games at North Texas (Aug. 31) and Wyoming (Sept. 7) before coming home for a contest with Mid-American Conference opponent Northern Illinois (Sept. 14).

A border battle at WSU’s Martin Stadium (Sept. 21) will be followed by two more home games with Temple (Sept. 28) and Fresno State (Oct. 5) and road dates at Arkansas State (Oct. 12) and Ole Miss (Oct. 26).

The Vandals’ final two home games will be against New Mexico State (Nov. 2) and Old Dominion (Nov. 9), with a undisclosed BCS conference opponent (Nov. 23) and New Mexico State (Nov. 30) closing out the 12 games.

As far a payouts go, the Vandals will collect $550,000 from WSU, $850,000 from Ole Miss and $950,000 from the mystery BCS opponent which asked Idaho not to release its name.

"It was really important that we balance the schedule financially and competitively," Spear said. "And it did take some time. I was very hopeful we could get it complete sooner than we did, but we needed to be patient and make sure we could get the right games and the right schedule for our football program."

As it stands now, nearly all of Idaho’s home games in 2013 are part of a home-and-home swap. The Vandals will travel to Fresno State in 2014, Old Dominion in 2019 and are still working on a return date with Temple.

On top of getting all of its 2013 games set, Idaho also signed a backup agreement with the Idaho Potato Bowl in the event that the Vandals do become bowl-eligible.

Originally announced as a two-year experiment, Spear backed off that timetable considerably when asked about what the future holds as Idaho wades into uncharted territory as an independent.

"We’re going to continue on this path until we find a conference home for football," Spear said. "We’re going to try to find a conference home every year. That’s a No. 1 priority for us.

"Right now we’re an FBS institution and we plan on continuing down that road."

Another priority for the athletic director was the welfare of his student-athletes, which is why the decision to move to a more region-centric conference like the Big Sky was made, he added.

Idaho will move its nonfootball programs over for the 2014-15 season, meaning its teams will play in the WAC next school year.

"We welcome the University of Idaho back to the Big Sky, a conference where it excelled athletically and academically for more than 30 years as a flagship member," Big Sky Conference commissioner Doug Fullerton said in a written release. "For decades Idaho enjoyed very successful athletics teams across the board in the Big Sky Conference.

"We expect the Vandals to enjoy success in our league again."

If UI had announced that it would move to the Big Sky for the 2013-14 season, the school would miss out on the revenue that will be split at the end of the year.

Instead of charging exit fees, the WAC allows schools to leave as long as the institution forfeits its end-of-year conference revenue.

That money, which is generated mostly through football, is split up amongst the remaining members - with football schools pocketing a larger amount than nonfootball schools.

By delaying its move to the Big Sky, Idaho ensures that it will reap a healthy share of the profit from this year’s bowl-season haul, whatever it may be.

As far as UI’s other reasons for joining the Big Sky, Nellis cited Idaho’s history with the BSC as one of six charter members, past rivalries with those schools, the BSC’s commitment to academics and the ability to save travel costs.

"We certainly have appreciated our affiliation with the Western Athletic Conference, it’s been a great association for us and we appreciate the support we have received from them," Nellis said. "But it’s time now for us to move forward and again, we’re excited with this new affiliation with the Big Sky Conference."

Warzocha may be contacted at twarzochalmtribune.com or (208) 848-2260. Follow him on Twitter lmtribTroyW.

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