Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Idaho Vandal soccer likely headed to Big Sky; will others follow?

The constant shifting sands of football programs among the various Division I conferences over the years is finally catching up on the Western Athletic Conference, and the University of Idaho is poised to be the latest to leave the conference for football reasons. The byproduct will assuredly see the non-football sports joining the Big Sky Conference as the school remains independent on the gridiron.

The process for the Vandals reached a tipping point in the past week with the school receiving approval from the Idaho State Board of Education on Friday to become an independent football program and discuss membership in the Big Sky for its other sports.

The university was a charter member of the Big Sky Conference in 1963 and was a member for 33 years before leaving for the Big West in 1996 and eventually the WAC in 2005.

Idaho’s departure is part of a larger problem for the WAC with five other programs leaving the seven-team football league in the 10-member conference that geographically spans from Louisiana to Seattle. Utah State and San Jose State are joining the Mountain West while Louisiana Tech and Texas-San Antonio are joining Conference USA. Texas State and non-football Texas-Arlington are moving on to join the Sun Belt.

That leaves only three schools after the 2012-13 cycle with New Mexico as the lone football program. Seattle University and the University of Denver are the other two remaining members. With only three members slated for next year, the conference is in a scramble to find more members to reach the NCAA minimum of seven or will have to fold up completely after having already conceded that they will not continue as a football conference.

"If we can't get enough league members, we can't operate as a conference," WAC commissioner Jeff Hurd said, according to the Denver Post, which also noted he may know their fate as a non-football conference as early as September. "We're going to do everything possible to avoid that. There aren't any obvious answers out there."

With the Big Sky already having an expansive reach among its 13 members, the trickle-down effect of events in the WAC could create the possibility of the other three schools potentially joining the Big Sky, though no reports have surfaced to that affect with the issue at its genesis for them. It is also unknown if the Big Sky would welcome them. All three schools have women’s soccer programs. Neither conference features men's soccer.

WAC Conference Schools & Future

Idaho >> Independent + Big Sky
Louisiana Tech >> Conference USA
New Mexico >> TBD
San Jose State >> Mountain West
Texas-San Antonio >> Conference USA
Texas State >> Sun Belt
Utah State >> Mountain West
Denver >> TBD
Seattle >> TBD
Texas-Arlington >> Sun Belt

Current Big Sky Conference – Soccer Members

Eastern Washington
Idaho State
North Dakota
Northern Arizona
Northern Colorado
Portland State
Sacramento State
Southern Utah
Weber State

Non-soccer: Cal Poly, UC Davis, Montana State