Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Idaho and New Mexico State Removed From Sun Belt

After making pitches for long term membership in the Sun Belt Conference, the league has officially ended the relationships with both Idaho and New Mexico State effective at the end of the 2017 season. For Idaho, this is their second departure from the conference, as they were a founding football member.
Both teams are left with an unappetizing look at beings independents, something both have toyed with in the past, or awaiting another invitation from an FBS conference, which seems unlikely to happen.
The only palatable move at this point for both schools is to lose 22 scholarships each and join the ranks of FCS football. Of course, there is a nuclear option to drop football altogether at this point, but that also seems unlikely. The Mountain West, which makes sense geographically, is not walking through that door, nor are they blowing up any phones. NMSU has some sway there, as they have a long standing rivalry with New Mexico, but that doesn't seem to be a draw. NMSU could also look into Conference USA, where they could find a fit in the West with arch rival UTEP, but that also seems a long shot at best, as the Aggie basketball program is the real draw, not the football program.
Idaho AD Rob Spear, who recently received a contract extension through 2020, has stated that his long term goal is to keep Idaho in FBS football. We all want things we can't have, Rob. FBS football no longer looks viable for either program, short term or long. In the 1980's independence was a thing. In 2016, unless your name is Notre Dame, not so much.
In short, the Big Sky Conference has made a major push towards getting Idaho back in the fold, as they compete in all other sports in that conference, and they also dominated the league in football in the 1980's and 90's before leaving for the not so green pastures of FBS football. The Big Sky would love to have the Vandals back, and have been very up front about that. It's best to go where you are wanted, not where you are not.
New Mexico State would also be attractive to a couple of FCS leagues. First, they fit wonderfully well in the footprint of the Southland Conference, where a majority of members play in neighboring Texas. Cost of travel would be very inexpensive, and there are several potential long term rivals available. NMSU could still keep non conference dates with rivals New Mexico and UTEP annually, and still play in what is becoming a power league in FCS football.
Another option for NMSU would be to join Idaho in the Big Sky. There are several schools, however not as many as the SLC, that NMSU geographically fits with including Northern Arizona, Southern Utah, Weber State, and Northern Colorado. There has been no official public push or comment about NMSU from the Big Sky brass, but one has to think that an option may exist there that could be mutually beneficial, as NMSU does have a 30,000 seat stadium to bring forth.
Whatever happens moving forward, both schools have some healing to do. These programs have been abysmal for far too long now, and, especially in the case of NMSU, they have to show they are ready to go all in on football, even on the FCS level, to be have a strong impact. NMSU played for years in the Missouri Valley Conference, a 1-AA league that hosted 1-A programs, and rarely found success even on that level, so there is some serious work to do, especially on the coaching front, where Doug Martin is hardly the guy to resurrect this program from the dead. Paul Petrino was a good hire by Idaho, and the team has some solid young talent, and therefore looks like a better bet short term for immediate success.
These two programs have some time to figure out their next steps, but not as much time as they would like. The clock is ticking, and the longer they wait, the less likely they are to land deals that make sense and are healthy for these programs moving forward.

No comments:

Post a Comment