Despite Potato Bowl Win, FCS Still The Right Spot for Idaho Vandal Football

by John Furgele (Your One and Only 228)

There are lots of bowl games in this great land of ours—lots of them—and most sit in obscurity.  And this year even the Orange, Cotton, Sugar and Rose Bowl, because of the College Football Playoff, have diminished in relevance.

Yesterday’s Famous Idaho Potato Bowl (Potato Bowl for short) carried a little more intrigue than most because the University of Idaho was one of the participants.  In case you’ve forgotten—and most of you never knew—Idaho is going to play one more year at the FBS level and then move to FCS in 2018.  They will be the first school to drop DOWN to FCS since the divide began back in the late 1970s.

Naturally, the move down has caused some hurt feelings in Idaho Nation.  Several key boosters said that they no longer will donate; others have surrendered their season tickets while others have hit the message boards to voice both displeasure and support for the move.  We live in a polarized society; a society that currently embraces protests and temper tantrums.  When we don’t get our way, we yell, dehumanize and denigrate all in our way.  The 2016 election proved this beyond a doubt and we see it sports all the time.

For some, moving from FBS to FCS is an insult, something that can’t be recovered from.  As a result, that $100,000 donation and the season tickets all go by the wayside.  Any move like this causes hurt feelings, and even though Idaho finished 9-4 this season and trounced Colorado State, 61-50 in the Potato Bowl shouldn’t be a reason for pause.

After the game, several made the case that Idaho can contend at the FBS level.  Quarterback Matt Linehan, who threw for 381 yards and was named the game’s MVP said that university President Chuck Staben is “tone-deaf,” and that the Vandals belong in FBS.  He later apologized numerous times for his comments, so I am willing to forgive and move forward; I’m sure others are not.

Despite the impressive win and a chance that the Vandals will be solid again next year, the move to FCS is a smart one.  We must remember that the Sun Belt Conference kicked Idaho out, leaving the Vandals without a conference come 2018.  Geographically, the best landing spot for Idaho would be the Mountain West, but that conference hasn’t shown eagerness, or more importantly, an invitation for membership.

Idaho could stay and play as an independent like BYU and Notre Dame do, but Idaho is not BYU or Notre Dame, schools with a national following.  Massachusetts is currently playing—and struggling– as independent and that’s what life would be like for Idaho if they stay at the FBS level.

Many people think moving to FBS is a no-brainer; a cash cow but reality begs otherwise.  During ESPN’s telecast last night, the announcers said that 84 percent of FBS teams lose money playing football.  These costs are offset by student fees, contributions from alumni, boosters and taking money from other divisions, so we all know that the cash cow doesn’t exist for schools like Idaho and Massachusetts as well as the other team that the Sun Belt is kicking out after 2017; New Mexico State.

Idaho football head coach Paul Petrino makes less than the Strength and Conditioning coach at Alabama does and if Idaho stays at the FBS level, they would never be able to pay the head coach the million dollar salaries that the 16 percenters do.  Idaho is a school that hires up-and-comers to coach.  You know who they are.  The FCS coach, the offensive coordinator, the defensive coordinator, the guy trying to re-launch his career after getting fired somewhere else.

Petrino has been supportive of the move and has stated that he will be the coach in 2018 when the Vandals move back to FCS.  He appears to be sincere, but I’m not sure he really is and you know what?  I can’t blame him.  He’s a guy who wants to coach FBS football and he was hired to do just that at the University of Idaho.  Now, things have changed and if wants to pursue other FBS opportunities, who could really be mad or upset at him?

The best quality we can have is to know ourselves.  It is not easy.  People with short tempers like to call themselves patient.  People that run with the wrong people like to think they are good judges of character.  Very few people can admit their flaws and weaknesses.  Idaho is trying to admit that FBS football isn’t right for them and as hard as that is, they are looking in the mirror and making that difficult decision; in essence, admitting their flaws and weaknesses.

For Idaho football, moving to FCS is and still is the right move.  It is an exciting level of football and if we look around the NFL and the CFL, rosters are littered with FCS players.  Idaho doesn’t have the monies or the facilities to play and succeed long-term at the FBS level.  They have the Kibbie Dome, a great venue for FCS football.  They will play in the Big Sky conference against the likes of Montana, Montana State, Idaho State, Cal-Poly, Eastern Washington, and North Dakota.  In 2016, the Big Sky sent four teams to the 24-team FCS playoffs.  Even at the FCS level, Idaho will have to work and work hard to be successful.

The Vandals will lose monies in guarantee games because FCS teams get less to play at Washington than FBS teams, but there’s still room for Idaho to play at Washington State.  Instead of getting $1.1 million, they might get $550,000, but that money can still help and as long as FBS teams schedule FCS teams, teams like Idaho can play them and make the guarantee money.

The hope is that time will heal the wounds; that the boosters and the fans come back and support Idaho at the FCS level.  I’ll be rooting for the Vandals in 2017 and will be really rooting for them come 2018 when they return (they played FCS before) to FCS and the Big Sky conference.

We need our country to heal and hopefully that healing will carry over to the Idaho football nation and community.  Idaho’s chance of success increases greatly as an FCS member in the Big Sky than it does as an FBS independent.

The sooner Idaho fans realize this, the sooner the healing begins.

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