Akey: Vandals are 'unwanted red-headed stepchild'
MOSCOW, Idaho (AP) -- The losses kept piling up for the Idaho football team, even during the offseason.
Both the Mountain West and the Sun Belt conferences rejected the Vandals' request for membership. Meanwhile, other football programs bailed out of the Western Athletic Conference.
That left the future of the Idaho football program uncertain, as after this season the WAC football roster would consist only of the Vandals and New Mexico State.
Idaho coach Robb Akey is tired of the whole process.
"We are the unwanted red-headed stepchild, no offense to any redheads," Akey said. "Nobody seems to want the Vandals right now."
"I promise you that's got a chip on my shoulder," Akey said.
Idaho officials last week announced that the Vandals will remain in the top division of college football, but after this season will compete as an independent. Athletic director Rob Spear acknowledged the challenge that poses in scheduling games, and said he hoped it only lasted for two years before the Vandals were invited to join a conference.
With a tiny television market, a tiny fan base and little success since moving up to the FBS in 1996, it's not a surprise that the wholesale shuffling of the college football landscape has left the Vandals on the outside.
They are located in Moscow, a town of just over 20,000 in the remote Idaho Panhandle. Even in their own neighborhood the Vandals play second fiddle to the Pac-12's Washington State, located just eight miles away in Pullman.
More galling to Vandals fans has been the rise of Boise State football, 300 miles south in the state capital. The Broncos have enjoyed national success for a decade and in recent years abandoned the WAC for the Mountain West and will soon be bound for the Big East. The future of the Idaho-Boise State rivalry game is in doubt.
Moscow is in the Spokane, Wash., television market, and the 1.5 million households in that market were not enough for the Mountain West, Idaho athletic director Rob Spear said.
Then there's Idaho's poor record since moving up to the FBS. The Vandals have had just four winning seasons and 12 losing campaigns under coaches such as Chris Tormey, Tom Cable, Nick Holt and Dennis Erickson.
That has fueled talk in some quarters that the Vandals should return to the FCS-level Big Sky Conference, where they were once a power.
But Idaho administrators insist they are committed to the FBS.
This year, the WAC football roster consists of Idaho, New Mexico State, Utah State, San Jose State, Louisiana Tech, Texas-San Antonio and Texas State. All but Idaho and New Mexico State are scheduled to leave after this season, and league officials have said the WAC's days as a football conference are numbered.
The Vandals were 2-10 last season, and are picked by coaches to finish fifth in the seven-team league
Akey, entering his sixth season, said he believes Idaho will be competitive this year.
"We want to win the last WAC championship," Akey said.
He acknowledged it has been tough watching former WAC teams like Boise State, Nevada and Fresno State get scooped up by other leagues while the Vandals are turned away.
"I'm kind of tired of people telling me we're not good enough, we're not wanted, we're not going to do this, we're not going to do that," Akey said.
Things were not always so bad for the Vandals. The school was a member of the Pacific Coast Conference, a precursor to the Pac-12, from 1922 to 1958. For three decades it was a member of the Big Sky.
But the decision to follow Boise State into the FBS found Idaho in the Big West and then the Sun Belt Conferences before the Vandals appeared to find a stable home in the WAC in 2005. The explosion of conference realignments in recent years changed that.
Spear has urged Vandals fans to remain hopeful.
"We are going to land on our feet," Spear said. "Whatever the outcome, the University of Idaho is going to be fine."
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