Idaho coach Robb Akey has made no secret of the fact that he's hoping, desperately, that his Vandals can receive the lifeline of an FBS conference invite. With the WAC set to dissolve as a viable Division I football conference after the 2012 season -- when Idaho and New Mexico State become the only remaining members -- the widespread belief has been that if the Vandals don't pick up that invitation, they'll be forced into the FCS Big Sky Conference.
But Akey doesn't see it that way. Speaking to the Idaho Statesman Tuesday, Akey said that the Vandals should instead join the ranks of the FBS independents rather than concede defeat and drop to the FCS.
"Is it the ideal answer? Absolutely not," Akey said of independence. "I think it's a necessity if we can't get ourselves into a conference situation. It's a necessity to remain at that level.
"If some of the gurus are right and people are jumping around again in a couple years, you need to keep yourself in a position to be an option."
Akey said he "wouldn't be surprised" if independence was the route the Vandals eventually took "for a few years" until the conference realignment carousel opened a spot for them.
But that's going to be a dangerous and difficult road for the Vandals to travel down. Balancing the budget as a low-level independent without a television contract would require a healthy number of guarantee games, but as Akey himself admits, scheduling as an independent becomes exponentially more challenging as well. It's not an accident that the FBS's current four independents -- Notre Dame, BYU, Army and Navy -- all enjoy fervent national followings (or, in BYU's case, at least "fervent") that allow them to negotiate their own television contracts. That's not an advantage the Vandals enjoy.
Of course, not even Akey is arguing for independence as a viable long-term plan; it's a means to the end of joining a new conference. But what happens if the Mountain West still isn't interested? If the Sun Belt still says no thanks? The Vandals could have poured millions into an FBS program already on life support just to see it booted into the FCS anyway. From here, it seems like the safe, smart decision would be to swallow the Vandals' pride and join a conference -- the Big Sky -- that would be an extremely natural fit.
But that's the thing -- it's not our pride getting swallowed, is it? The University of Idaho built the program and Akey has poured a ton of himself into it in his six years in Moscow, and we don't blame them a bit for raging against the dying of its light, to borrow a phrase. If the Vandals do go the independent route, we may not agree with that decision, but we'll be rooting for them all the same.
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