MOSCOW, Idaho (AP) — Idaho will drop to the Football Championship Subdivision beginning in 2018 and intends to join the Big Sky Conference, school President Chuck Staben said Thursday.
The Vandals will remain at the Football Bowl Subdivision level for the next two seasons as part of the transition to the lower division. The move was expected after the program struggled for a number of years with competitiveness and conference stability at the higher division, and is pending approval from the Idaho State Board of Education.
"Our relevance will be complemented by our football program, not defined by it," Staben said.
Idaho first made the jump to the FBS in 1996 along with fellow in-state member Boise State. But the Vandals struggled at the higher level with finding a stable conference that made sense geographically and the increased expenditures. The Vandals are a combined 71-162 in their 20 seasons playing at the FBS level and have only twice reached a bowl game.
The football program has also fallen into the shadow of rival Boise State as the Broncos have become a nationally relevant football program.
"To become successful enough to affiliate with any FBS conference would require unjustifiable and unsustainable expenditures," Staben said. "Competing as an independent with an extremely uncertain conference affiliation would be irresponsible, especially when we have the alternative of joining one of the most prominent and stable FCS conferences."
Idaho's decision came after the Sun Belt announced in March that it would go with 10 teams and drop the Vandals as a football member. The Big Sky reached out and offered Idaho a chance to return to the conference beginning in 2018. The Vandals competed in the Big Sky until making the move to FBS and the rest of Idaho's athletic programs are Big Sky members.
In order to be eligible for the FCS postseason, Idaho will see a reduction in the number of available football scholarships from 85 to 63. It's part of the reason why the school is making the transition over two years.
"By having the two years to get there we will make sure we are where we need to be scholarship wise so that first year we can go into the playoffs and be successful there," Idaho football coach Paul Petrino said.