By Brian Murphy
The Idaho State Board of Education voted Friday to give the University of Idaho authority to become a Football Bowl Subdivision independent and negotiate and accept an invitation to the Big Sky in Olympic sports. The board's motion also allows Idaho to join the Big Sky in football.
The board voted 5-1 with the only no vote coming from State Board President Ken Edmunds. Edmunds wanted Idaho to have to return to the board if it chooses to place its football program in the Big Sky.
Idaho President Duane Nellis and Athletic Director Rob Spear — who joined the meeting via telephone — argued that they needed flexibility in case they were not able to schedule FBS games.
Spear said he was "quite confident we are able to do this (in regards to scheduling)."
On a teleconference later in the day, Spear said the Vandals have five games scheduled for 2013, are close to signing three more game contracts, are in negotiations with two other schools and are planning to play New Mexico State twice in 2013 — for a total of 12 games.
Five of those games must be at home and four of the home games must be against FBS teams.
Idaho has four known football games for 2013 — at Mississippi, at Wyoming, at Washington, vs. Northern Illinois. Spear said the fifth game was simply pending his signature and a review by the school's legal department.
"We believe playing as an independent in football is the best solution for our university, our student-athletes and our program," Nellis told the board.
After the meeting, Spear tweeted: "Thank you Idaho SBOE for supporting our motion to explore football independence and allowing us flexibility in our discussions with the BS (Big Sky)."
Here is my full story on the Vandals' seeking the authority from Friday morning's paper.
Highlights from Idaho's teleconference:
• Nellis repeated much of what he told the State Board in his opening comments. "Playing NCAA football as an independent makes the most sense for us, for our student-athletes and for our program," he said.
• Nellis again stressed that Idaho believes there will be more upheaval in college conferences.
• Nellis stressed that if the school joins the Big Sky it will have the same access to NCAA Championships that the school has as a member of the WAC.
• Spear said the Bowl Championship Series will pay Idaho $100,000 per year as an FBS independent, the same deal that Army and Navy get.
• Spear said Idaho will likely have to play three football "money games" to make independence work.
• Spear said he'd like to make a final decision "in the next three weeks."
• Nellis said Idaho is still having "dialogue" with the WAC. "There are still possibilities there," he said. But the Big Sky, he said, has ended any talk of an alliance with the WAC.
• Spear said that after investing 16 years at the FBS level, Idaho owed it to itself to stick around for two more years when the postseason format is due to change dramatically.
• Spear said Idaho's boosters are split right now, but he is confident they will rally around whatever decision the university makes.
• Spear said if Idaho joins the Big Sky, which does not sponsor men's golf and women's swimming and diving, the school would be able to find affiliate memberships for those programs.
• Spear said Idaho has had "very preliminary conversations with ESPN" and has had conversations with the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl. Spear said he thinks Idaho can sign backup agreements with several bowls.
• Spear said Idaho is working under a "self-imposed two-year deadline" on football independence. Spear said it is easier for Idaho to jump to an FBS conference from independence then it would be if the Vandals were to move to the Big Sky in football.
• Spear said the plan is to fully fund 85 football scholarships as long as Idaho remains at the FBS level.
• Nellis said there are a "lot of positives" about a potential association with the Big Sky. While praising the WAC, Nellis also said, "The best future for us may be in the Big Sky."