Idaho makes move to FCS, Big Sky official

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Less than 24 hours after the first reports surfaced, Idaho has confirmed it is dropping down a rung on the college football ladder.

The university announced at a press conference Thursday that the Vandals football program will indeed move down from the FBS to the FCS and compete in the Big Sky conference, where all of its other varsity sports are housed.  Idaho will remain a member of the Sun Belt for the 2016 and 2017 seasons before making the move to the FCS for the 2018 season.

Idaho becomes the first FBS program to ever drop back to the FCS level.

The announcement comes less than two months after the SBC announced that Idaho, along with New Mexico State, would no longer be a part of the league when their four-year terms expired following the 2017 season.  At that time, university officials indicated they would decide whether to accept an invitation to join the Big Sky of the FCS or compete as an independent at the FBS level.

In the end, the university “concluded that competing as an independent with an extremely uncertain future conference affiliation would be irresponsible” and opted for a return to the Big Sky.

“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,” UI president Chuck Staben said in a portion of his statement. “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.”

Idaho spent the past 20 seasons at the FBS level after moving up from the FCS for the 1996 season. Since making that move, the Vandals have appeared in just two bowl games (1998, 2009) and won more than five games in a single season five times, the last in 2010. In the five years since that 6-7 season, the Vandals have gone 9-50.

“We are extremely motivated to compete in the Sun Belt for the next two years,” said athletic director Rob Spear,”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.”