Sun Belt won't add Idaho, New Mexico St.; FCS the next step?

Idaho's and New Mexico State's chances of remaining FBS schools look slimmer than ever after the Sun Belt announced Wednesday that it will remain at 10 football-playing members for the foreseeable future.

Sun Belt commissioner Karl Benson addressed the plight of the Vandals and Aggies during his league's announcement that non-football-member Texas-Arlington would be officially joining the SBC in 2013 after a single season in the WAC. 

"We are not pursuing additional members at this time," Benson said, saying that the league would forgo playing a conference championship game. "At this juncture, the Sun Belt shouldn't be considered a landing spot whether it's an FCS member or an existing FBS member."
Benson said his announcement will "allow both Idaho and New Mexico State to know the direction the Sun Belt is headed. Personally, I wish the best for the University of Idaho and New Mexico State."
Per the Idaho Statesman, Benson also confirmed that he had spoken with Idaho athletic director Rob Spear prior to the announcement.

With the Mountain West having already declined to bring either the Moscow, Idaho or Las Cruces, New Mexico schools aboard, either's road forward at the FBS level appears extremely, extremely difficult. With the WAC down to just two football-playing members (i.e., the Vandals and Aggies) and no apparent way to bring itself back from the brink as an FBS entity, Idaho and NMSU face either convincing an FCS cavalry to ride into FBS to save the WAC, scratching out an existence as independents -- and becoming by far the two hardest programs in the country to recruit to, if they aren't already -- or dropping back to the FCS. 

Of those three options, it's hard to conclude that the latter route isn't the best option for two programs already struggling to make headway at the FBS level even before the WAC's demise. But that won't make it any less difficult for the athletes or coaches at the two schools.

“Being a successful Division I football coach is exactly what I want. It’s hard to do if you don’t have a conference. Does that keep me awake at night? Unfortunately, it does," Vandal head coach Robb Akey (pictured) told the Sporting News. "We’ve got the opportunity to be the last WAC champions. You look at that gravestone and we have the chance to have our names on there forever.”
It's not fair to call the decisions by the SBC and MWC cruel, exactly, not when the Vandals and NMSU bring little in the way of TV cachet or football tradition and bring much -- at least where the SBC is concerned -- in increased travel costs. But as Akey's talk of "gravestones" makes clear, that doesn't make the reality of the situation any less cruel for those involved in Moscow or Las Cruces.

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