By Brian Murphy
Big Sky Conference Commissioner Doug Fullerton has not been shy about his league's interest in adding the University of Idaho.
Now — with the Vandals' current league crumbling — Fullerton just might get his chance at convincing Idaho that the Big Sky is the best place for its athletic department.
Fullerton and Rob Spear, Idaho's athletic director, have spoken and, Fullerton said, will talk again this week. Spear said last week that he is considering four options, including a return to the Football Championship Subdivision, but said the ideal situation was to remain at the Football Bowl Subdivision level.
"I'm really impressed with the University of Idaho, the athletic director and the president. They are doing what they need to do and looking at the options that are available," Fullerton told the Idaho Statesman on Monday morning.
Fullerton said the competitive and financial imbalance in the FBS makes the FCS a better spot for some teams, including Idaho.
"Playing at the top of the FCS is a better situation than playing at the bottom of the FBS," Fullerton said, adding that it is nearly impossible for schools with budgets near $20 million to compete with schools like Texas and its $140 million athletic department budget.
"The success and fan base and excitement you can do (by) staying regional is what college athletics are supposed to be about, unless you can play at the national level," Fullerton said.
He said athletic departments that raise money from their fan base, booster support, fans at the game and media rights are doing it in a healthy way. Departments that rely on student fees and game guarantees are not stable.
Idaho is playing a number football road games with big paydays in future seasons, including games at Florida, Auburn and LSU.
He said Idaho could shave $3 million to $5 million from its athletic budget by moving to the Big Sky, lessening the need to play those types of payday games. Those savings would come from fewer scholarships in football and women's sports and from lower coaching salaries. Idaho, he said, could then reinvest that money into other programs.
"I think I could sit at a debate table and be able to convince an awful lot of people that the Big Sky will be the best option for (Idaho)," Fullerton said.
Fullerton said the league is well-positioned to be in the second-tier of college football if there is a break in the FBS with the top five conferences creating their own level of play. Spear made several references to this scenario during his call with media last week.
The Big Sky has 11 all-sport members and 13 football-playing members. The league is positioned as the No. 3 football-playing conference in the West, behind the Pac-12 and Mountain West, a position Fullerton said that will allow his league to garner better talent and more media attention. The league has a TV contract with Root.
On Boise State:
• Fullerton said he has not had any conversations with Boise State. He said his biggest worry about adding the Broncos' non-football programs would be the school's commitment to the league. "At the first opportunity, they would be gone," he said.
Boise State is moving its football program to the Big East in 2013 and most of its non-football programs to the WAC. However, with the WAC losing members quickly, the Broncos could be searching for a new landing spot for its non-football teams.
In his only public statement about the recent changes, Boise State Athletic Director Mark Coyle had the following statement: "We continue to closely monitor the changing landscape of college athletics as a result of the latest news on conference realignment. During this time of change, we remain committed to making the best long-term decisions for Boise State University."
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