In a brief press conference at 10 AM local time, Idaho made it official. The Vandals' football program will join the rest of it's athletic program in the Big Sky Conference, effective in 2018.
The announcement came as expected, previously being reported on yesterday with President Chuck Staben, Athletics Director Rob Spear and Head Football Coach Paul Petrino speaking to the media.
Idaho put on a brave face for the press, saying that after the Sun Belt chose not to renew their football-only membership in March, this was the best move for the program. Staben said being an FBS Independent, which Idaho tried after the WAC folded in 2013, would be "irresponsible".
Doug Fullerton, Big Sky commissioner, has said for years the Vandals had an open invitation to move their football program into the league.
Spear said that the program will begin the transition immediately. The biggest logistical hurdle will be getting the program down to 63 scholarships, the max for an FCS team. It's unknown whether Idaho is at the FBS max of 85, but it's safe to assure that they're close to that number.
Spear and Staben said the school has a plan to get the program to 63 scholarships and thus, be FCS Playoff eligible immediately in 2018. Details of the plan were not elaborated on, but it will definitely make recruiting difficult for the next two years.
When past programs have either shut down, like UAB, or faced severe sanctions, like SMU and Penn State, the NCAA has granted transfer waived to those student-athletes, making them immediately eligible anywhere they go. Staben and Speir said the NCAA assured them that would not happen at Idaho.
While Staben mentioned that FBS could be an option down the road, Idaho is looking for stability and will assuredly find that in the Big Sky.
What will be Idaho's 22-year history in FBS will be a tale of being at the mercy of realignment. After leaving the Big Sky and FCS to join FBS in 1996, the Vandals joined the fledgling Big West Conference. When that league was dying, the Vandals joined the upstart Sun Belt in 2001, staying until 2004 when they joined the WAC. Idaho rode the highs and lows of the WAC until realignment killed it. After spending 2013 as an FBS Independent, Idaho re-joined the Sun Belt as a football-only member in 2014 on a four-year contract.
With the addition of the Vandals, the Big Sky will 14 football members in 2018. You have local foes in Eastern Washington and Montana, along with in-state opponent Idaho State. Rounding out the Big Sky is Montana State, North Dakota, Northern Colorado, Southern Utah, Northern Arizona, Portland State, Weber State, Sacramento State and football-only members UC-Davis and Cal Poly.
The last programs to move from FBS to FCS were all the way back in 1982. That year, the Ivy League, Southland, Southern among others were reclassified as FCS by the NCAA, ending a tumultuous four-year period since the FBS/FCS split happened in 1978 where several programs tried to remain FBS.