Report: Idaho to go independent in football, join Big Sky in other sports

It's not the FBS existence the Idaho Vandals wanted. But it's the one they're going to have to try to earn all the same.

The Idaho Statesman reported Thursday that the University of Idaho has made the decision to remain in the FBS as a football-playing independent and join the FCS Big Sky Conference in all other sports. The move is expected to be formally approved during a meeting of the Idaho State Board of Education meeting Friday.

The Vandals will become the FBS's fifth independent team, alongside Notre Dame, Army, Navy, and BYU.

The school had desperately hoped to find a conference home after the gutting of the WAC, one that left Idaho and New Mexico State as the league's only football-playing members. But with the Mountain West standing firm against issuing an invitation and the Sun Belt uninterested, the Vandals (and Aggies) were left with deciding between independence and dropping down to the FCS level.

Nex Mexico State has not made an official decision but is also expected to play as an independent in 2013.

Idaho athletic director Rob Spear told the Statesman that he did not expect the Vandals to be able to remain an independent for longer than two seasons. 

Many have argued in favor of the Vandals making the FCS drop immediately -- where they would be required to spend less money on football scholarships and would have a natural conference home waiting in the Big Sky -- coach Robb Akey said in June that FCS football was not a current option for his program.

"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 [between conferences] again in a couple years, you need to keep yourself in a position to be an option."

The school has also argued in favor of independence by noting it can earn far more in its "paycheck" visits to power-conference schools as an FBS member than it would in the FCS.

Nonetheless, whether the opportunity to rejoin an FBS presents itself or not will likely be the measuring stick by which the independence decision is measured. Because otherwise -- given the huge scheduling demands, financial difficulties, and television nonexistence of independence at the bottom of the FBS food chain -- it's hard to see how the Vandals aren't simply delaying the inevitable.

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