It’s been a blur.
Four years ago Bill Speltz and I toured the campuses of the University of Idaho and Boise State University, trying to figure out where the Montana Grizzlies might fit.
Back then the Vandals had rebuilt their locker rooms, were expanding their weight room, planning improvements to the Kibbie Dome and hoping to rise up the Western Athletic Conference football ranks.
In 2009 they ramped things up a little, going 8-5 with a 43-42 win over Bowling Green in the Roady’s Humanitarian Bowl.
Since then they’ve gone 6-7 and 2-9, which is good enough to rank in the top two in its league – because that wacky conference has lost all but two of its football-playing members.
The collapse of the WAC has Idaho athletic director Rob Spear mulling options, one of which is returning to the Big Sky Conference it roamed from the league’s inception in 1963 until jumping into the Bowl Subdivision ranks in 1996.
I’ll believe it when I see it, but I’m all for it.
I’ve written this before: When Boise State announced it would leave the Big Sky after the 1995 season, my thoughts were something to the effect of, “Don’t let the door hit you ... ”
Then Idaho went with the Broncos, for that football heaven known as the Big West Conference. That lasted five years. When the Big West dropped football, the WAC handed out an invitation to Boise State, but not Idaho.
The last 11 seasons in Moscow have been mostly forgettable. What strikes me is how much has changed in the last four years on the football landscape, where ESPN and CBS dollars have major programs jumping leagues in search of top dollar.
That the NCAA can have a moratorium on programs moving up from the Football Championship Subdivision through last season, but then sit back while major conferences destroy each other – or themselves – amazes me.
Closer to home little has changed. In 2008 the Vandals were aiming to add 4,000 seats by lowering the playing surface. The expansion still hasn’t happened, which shouldn’t surprise you.
Back in Missoula, then-University of Montana athletic director Jim O’Day was talking about how his student-athletes needed better facilities from locker rooms to study rooms to meeting rooms. Perhaps the latest stadium expansion would speed that process, we thought.
That hasn’t happened, either. But we have lights.
Spear has said his goal is to keep the Vandals in the bowl subdivision; I’ll wish the Butte Central and University of Montana graduate good luck. But Idaho would instantly be among the best-funded athletic departments in the Big Sky if it came back.
A rivalry with UM that died in 2003 would be reborn.
I never liked the Vandals’ move. In 2008, years after Boise State joined the WAC and Idaho ended up in the Sun Belt Conference, Broncos athletic director Gene Blaymeier said, “To move up and become a doormat is not a wise move.”
By then Idaho had gotten that invite to the WAC, and in 2009 the Vandals represented the league in a bowl game. In Boise.
Now the Broncos are off to the Big East, following Texas Christian, which has already left the league without playing a game.
But this isn’t about Boise State, is it? It’s about Idaho, home to the state’s law school and the coolest nickname this side of the Griz.
Come back, Vandals. We’ll dust off the Little Brown Stein for you.
Fritz Neighbor can be reached at 523-5247 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.