Idaho and New Mexico State will be dropped from the Sun Belt Conference after the 2017 football season, the conference announced Tuesday.

Sun Belt presidents were scheduled to decide on the schools’ fates at a March 10 meeting. The timeline was moved up when the presidents decided to go forward with 10 schools instead of 12. Sun Belt presidents did not take a formal vote in dropping the two schools. It was described more as an initiative to go forward with 10.

Among Idaho’s options are deciding between independence and FCS conference membership. Fox Sports’ Bruce Feldman was first to report the departure of Idaho and New Mexico State.

"We're going to look at all options," Idaho athletic director Rob Spear told CBS Sports. "We're not going to come out with a decision today. For too long we have been reacting to everything around us. As part of our evaluation process we need to look at, how do we control our future."

The NCAA’s deregulation of conference championship games figured into the Sun Belt’s decision according to commissioner Karl Benson. The Sun Belt can now proceed with a league championship game -- if it prefers -- with 10 teams. Previously, leagues needed at least 12 teams split into two six-team divisions to stage such a game.

Benson said the earliest the league could add a championship game is '17 but more likely would come in 2018. No decision has been made on venue. The Big 12 and Sun Belt remain the only FBS leagues not to have championship games.

"This will bring it to a head," Benson said of the championship game decision. 

Benson said a 2013 financial decision by the Group of Five schools drove the move. That year, the Group of Five conferences decided each of the leagues would receive up to $12 million in College Football Playoff distribution based on a maximum of $1 million per school.

That maximum was later changed to $10 million which made it easier for the Sun Belt to shrink its membership. With Idaho and New Mexico State, the Sun Belt has been ranked last among the Group of Five conferences in recent years, Benson said.

“Everyone is focusing on whether the Big 12 adds two teams," he explained. "If they do, where do they come from and how do they impact our Group of Five?"

The Sun Belt added football in 2001, taking on New Mexico State, Middle Tennessee State, Louisiana-Monroe and Idaho as football-only members.

Idaho and New Mexico State departed for the WAC in 2005, only to return to the Sun Belt in 2013. During the upheaval of conference realignment, both the Vandals and Aggies played as independents in 2012.

Coastal Carolina joins the Sun Belt as a full member on July 1. 

The future of Idaho football is up in the air. (USATSI)
The future of Idaho football is up in the air. (USATSI)