Football programs usually move one way in the conference realignment process — upward. We’ve seen it happen over and over again throughout this decade: Texas A&M leaves the Big 12 for the SEC, TCU leaves the American for the Big 12, SMU replaces TCU in the American, and North Texas replaces SMU in Conference USA. On and on the chain reaction goes until the final explosion is so small and so out of view that we’ve long lost interest.
But one rule has become clear — no matter how many fans at the keyboard theorize about conferences kicking teams out, it hardly ever happens. Once you’re in a league, you’re in for good. The only recent precedent is the Big East kicking Temple out in 2004, only to let them back in eight years later.
Except now, dozens and dozens of chain reactions later, the Sun Belt has pulled itself from the realignment rubble and shaping itself for the future. That means debating whether or not Idaho and New Mexico State belong in that future.
Toward the beginning of this decade, when Sun Belt saw five of its programs jump for Conference USA and the WAC completely imploded as a football-playing entity, an Idaho-to-the-Sun Belt was a re-marriage that made sense for both sides. Except now the SBC has re-built itself by adding Texas State, South Alabama, Georgia State, Georgia Southern and Appalachian State. Coastal Carolina joins this summer, with football beginning in 2017. Coastal’s addition happens to come at a time when Idaho and New Mexico State’s contracts as football-only members expire, and recent NCAA bylaw changes will allow the league to hold a football championship game without needing its westernmost members, forcing the Vandals and Aggies to sing for their supper in a way we haven’t seen in a long time.
Earlier this week, Idaho president Chuck Staben stated his university’s case to the 12 other Sun Belt CEOs in advance of a March yay or nay vote.
Thanks to the Idaho Statesman, we can review the slides used in that presentation. As you’ll see, Idaho’s presentation was equal parts “we bring intrinsic value to the Sun Belt” with “give us a chance and, we swear, you’ll see us improve.” However, it at times came off as more “we’re not as bad as you think we are, promise!”
Idaho’s attempts to pound its chest came off awkward at best.
“I’m almost ready to make my decision. Jim, can we see where Idaho finished in tackles for loss allowed again?”
The Vandals (and Aggies) will need nine votes to stay in the league but the view from here looks like, as the Sun Belt continues to move south and east, the best move for both programs would be best off cutting bait and attempting to become the next North Dakota State as members of the Big Sky Conference than continuing to force a marriage of convenience that isn’t really all that convenient.