The University of Idaho announced Thursday it will accept an invitation to play football in the Big Sky Conference beginning in fall 2018, pending approval by the State Board of Education.
“I understand the magnitude of this decision and the strong opinions that surround it, both for and against, but joining the Big Sky Conference is the best possible course for our athletics program and for our university,” said Chuck Staben, UI president. “We have carefully weighed our options and concluded that competing as an independent with an extremely uncertain future conference affiliation would be irresponsible when we have the alternative of joining one of the most stable FCS conferences. The Big Sky allows us to renew traditional rivalries and offers our athletes the opportunity to excel, just as they do in our other Big Sky sports programs.”
UI was notified by the Sun Belt in March that the conference would move forward with a 10-team league after the 2017 football season -- not renewing the membership of UI and New Mexico State University. UI will play in the Sun Belt two more seasons, moving to the Big Sky for the fall 2018 season.
“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,” Staben said. “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.”
”We are extremely motivated to compete in the Sun Belt for the next two years 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,” said Athletic Director Rob Spear.
“We have two years to position our athletics department to best serve our students and provide the quality co-curricular benefits we expect from Vandal athletics,” Staben said. “We will be successful in the Big Sky Conference and will build a vibrant football culture that is an excellent front porch for our university.”
The University of Idaho played football in the Big Sky Conference from 1965-1995, winning nine conference championships. All UI sports left the Big Sky in 1996, with most other sports other than football returning in 2014. The Vandal football team has played in the Sun Belt since 2014, its second run in the conference since leaving the Big Sky.