Big Sky Conference

Idaho no longer in Sun Belt, could return to Big Sky

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Idaho is one step closer to becoming a full-fledged member of the Big Sky Conference.

On Tuesday, the Sun Belt Conference announced the league would drop the University of Idaho and New Mexico State as members after the 2017 season. The Vandals were one of the Sun Belt’s founding teams in 2001 and played in the league until 2004. UI moved to the Western Athletic Conference in 2005 and stayed there until the league dropped football in 2012.

Idaho officials say that the Vandals have two options: to play as an FBS independent as it did in 2013 or to accept a standing invitation from the Big Sky Conference to join the league as a full member in 2018. Idaho is a full member of the Big Sky with the exception of football. The Big Sky has already extended an invite to UI to return.

“We are still looking at different football programs out here in the west, and what could we do to enhance the Big Sky Conference and really solidify us even more,” Big Sky commissioner Doug Fullerton told Brandon Garside of the Ogden Standard-Examiner. “We have Idaho back in the league in everything but football, but we’re working our tails off to try to get that done.”

The Sun Belt had a March 10 deadline for a decision whether to include or drop Idaho. UI made a presentation to the conference to outline its value to the conference in mid-February. Coastal Carolina, an FCS power, will join the league in 2017.

“We are disappointed by the Sun Belt’s decision,” UI president Chuck Staben said in a statement. “But we are optimistic about the options before us and we are continuing to diligently consider our future affiliation as an opportunity to find the stability and full participation we have not experienced in the Sun Belt. We will make a decision in the coming months.”

Idaho won eight Big Sky football titles between 1965 and 1995 before jumping to the FBS. The Bowl Subdivision has a scholarship maximum of 85 full scholarships per roster. The FCS limit is 63 full scholarships.

“The University of Idaho will continue to assess how to provide the best experience for our student-athletes and fans,” Staben said. “Football is an important part of the college experience. A strong, stable athletic program complements the university’s great academic programs, enhances the student experience and engages our alumni and fans.”

About Colter Nuanez

Colter Nuanez is the co-founder and senior writer for Skyline Sports. After spending six years in the newspaper industry with stops at the Missoulian, the Ellensburg Daily Record and the Bozeman Daily Chronicle, the former Washington Newspaper Association Sportswriter of the Year and University of Montana Journalism School graduate ('09) has cultivated a deep passion for sports journalism during his 12 year career covering the Big Sky Conference. In August of 2014, Colter and brother Brooks merged their passions of writing and art to founded Skyline Sports.

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