The Front Row with MARK NELKE July 8, 2012 - Coeur d'Alene Press: Sports

The Front Row with MARK NELKE July 8, 2012

The state of football in Idaho

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Posted: Sunday, July 8, 2012 12:00 am

Who would have thought the most stable NCAA athletic program in the state these days would reside in Pocatello?

Yes, Idaho State has been a longtime resident of the Big Sky Conference, is making no rumblings about moving some or all of its programs to another, more lucrative and more highly regarded conference, and the conference it is in now is adding teams, not losing them.

Boise State has found a more lucrative - but also more far-flung - home for its powerhouse football team in the Big East, where the Broncos will play in 2013. But Boise State's other sports have a temporary home they're trying to get out of - the Western Athletic Conference, beginning in 2013 - but no one else willing to take in the Broncos - yet.

And while Idaho has a conference to call its home, the Western Athletic Conference is losing teams at an alarming rate, leaving the Vandals' future in the WAC - and the WAC itself - up in the air.

YOU CAN'T blame Boise State for trying to improve its lot with a football program which has become America's darlings over the past six seasons - not only for the Broncos' imaginative play-calling, but also because they've been really good, going 73-6 over that span, including two wins in BCS games.

Whether moving on up to the (Big) East side puts Boise State in a better position to play for a national championship than it did in the Mountain West, where it will play this fall for a second straight year, or the WAC, where it played from 2001-10, remains to be seen.

True, with four teams picked to compete for the national title (effective the 2014 season) rather than the current two, that would open it up more to a Boise State. However, if the top conferences (SEC, Pac-12, Big 10, Big 12, ACC) find a way to keep all the berths for themselves, then it's the BCS all over again.

Published reports say Boise State will make some $7.8 million from playing football in the Big East in 2013 — about three times what the Broncos would make in the Mountain West.

And even if Boise State isn’t selected for the final four in football, the chances the Broncos could wind up in one of the other high-paying bowls appears to have increased — no more bowls picking a Virginia Tech over a more-deserving Boise State because they feel the Hokies might sell a few more tickets.

The teams I feel bad for are Boise State’s other programs, which are sort of in limbo. When Leon Rice left his assistants’ job at Gonzaga to take over the men’s basketball program at Boise State, the Broncos were headed up to the Mountain West — which boasted the fifth-best conference RPI in the country last year.

If, beginning in 2013, Boise State keeps those other programs in the WAC — which the Broncos just left a year ago — they would be in the 12th-rated conference as far as RPI. If they end up in the Big West, which has been discussed, they would be playing in the 25th-rated league. That’s one spot ahead of the Big Sky Conference.

THEN THERE’s Idaho, which still has a league for its other teams effective in 2013, but what will happen with its football program is anyone’s guess.

Earlier this week, the WAC sent out a preseason poll ballot, asking the media to rank the seven teams in predicted order of finish. It’s a good thing they listed the seven teams, because I don’t think very many of us could have rattled off the seven teams playing football in the WAC this fall.

(In case you were curious, they are Idaho, Louisiana Tech, New Mexico State, San Jose State, Texas-San Antonio, Texas State and Utah State.)

Of course, by this time next year, Idaho and New Mexico State will be the only football-playing members of the WAC, as the others are fleeing for other conferences.

What will happen? Idaho football coach Robb Akey has said many times he thinks the Vandals should be in the Mountain West, where San Jose State and Utah State are headed after this year, and where Nevada, Hawaii and Fresno State departed the WAC for after last year (and as Boise State did in 2011).

Will the WAC be able to recruit enough football-playing members to patch together a league in 2013? Can Idaho find some other league that will take in the Vandals? Or will Idaho try to survive as an independent for a while, until the next round of conference reshuffling, when hopefully a seat opens up for the Vandals?

“We are still evaluating all options,” Idaho athletic director Rob Spear said the other day.

I guess that means stay tuned.

Mark Nelke is sports editor of The Press. He can be reached at 664-8176, Ext. 2019, or via email at mnelke@cdapress.com. Follow him on Twitter at CdAPressSports.

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