SPEAR: "There will be additional realignment"

THE FUTURE OF MAJOR COLLEGE FOOTBALL continues to evolve. At the NCAA meetings this month the Big 5 Conferences are poised to push for changes at the highest level of competition. Unknown is how these meetings will impact the Group of 5 and the evolution of conference realignment. We met with University of Idaho AD Rob Spear to get his thoughts on what may be in store for Idaho and FBS.

GoVandals.net recently sat down with University of Idaho Director of Athletics Dr. Rob Spear to discuss the changing landscape of conference realignment. With the NCAA meetings taking place this month, the Big 5 Conferences (Pac-12, Big Ten, SEC, ACC, and Big XII) are likely to continue flexing their muscle to gain more control of governing FBS. What impact those potential changes will have on the Group of 5 (Sun Belt, MWC, C-USA, MAC, and AAC) remains to be seen. So we sat down with Dr. Spear for an exclusive interview to discuss what may be in store for Idaho and the rest of the Football Bowl Subdivision world.

PAT HAUGE: We're hearing a lot about significant changes on the horizon for major college football, and that those changes could be coming as soon as January. Can you give us a window into what changes you expect to see for FBS?

ROB SPEAR: "The Big 5 conferences want to control their own destiny, and they want to do that by maintaining the current revenue structure and having legislative autonomy over areas of regulation, including what constitutes a full scholarship. They want to pay more per scholarship. They want to pay up to the full cost of attendance. Every institution calculates the full cost of attendance, which includes a couple trips home every year, laundry money, and other incidental expenses. The Big 5 conferences will get their way with that. They will be able to pay more as part of their scholarship allotment than what they're currently getting.

"I do think they want another independent process for considering and adopting legislation. They don't want to follow the current protocol for adopting legislation, and they want to have autonomy that separates them current NCAA process.

"So those are some of the issues. Now, whether that means we're going to have a Division IV remains to be seen. One day there's not going to be a Division IV because they want to stay under the same umbrella as the NCAA, the next day you hear their will be a Division IV. The only thing I know for certain is that whatever divisions are created, they will all remain under the NCAA, but with significant changes. The reason that they'll all remain under the NCAA is because the Big 5, although they may threaten to break away, they don't want to have the obligation of sponsoring all those championships for all those other sports like the NCAA does right now. The only thing the NCAA doesn't control right now is football (FBS), but football is the thing that drives the bus."

PH: The Top 4 teams in the nation (as chosen by a committee) will be competing in the playoff. Beyond that, the top ranked team from the "Group of 5", if not invited to the playoff, is guaranteed a spot in one of the other bowls (for this first year, they'll play in the Cotton, Fiesta, or Peach). What do you think of this arrangement?

RS: "Well, it does provide access, although it's limited access to a big bowl game or the playoff. It's one of the issues that they had with the old BCS system, they felt there wasn't enough access. At least this guarantees that there will be access."

PH: You've talked in the past about how there is only one major conference in the west outside of the Pac-12 conference -- the Mountain West Conference. Do you see a new conference potentially forming in the west as college football adjusts in the future?

RS: "I'm optimistic that that will happen, which is why we made the decision to remain an FBS institution, because we are better positioned to make the right decision for our University in the future. There will be additional realignment. I think this additional realignment will help us control our own destiny.

"Right now we're able to have a choice. Had we made the decision to go back to being an FCS program, we wouldn't have any choices after that decision. One thing that is for certain with the NCAA meetings in January in San Diego, is it will become increasingly more difficult for FCS programs to move up. That is one of the things that they are going to adopt at some point in time. I don't know exactly what the criteria is going to be, but they are going to make it increasingly difficult to become an FBS institution."

PH: Can you give an example of what that new criteria may be?

RS: "They may align by your annual budget, meaning you'd have to have "x" amount to be an FBS institution. They could take it a step further and say it's your revenue generation. It could be the number of sports sponsored, which is a current criteria. It is currently 16 sports and they could increase that. So those are a few things that you might see."

PH: Is Dr. Staben committed to Idaho competing at the FBS level with peer institutions in the current "Group of 5" (Sun Belt, MWC, CUSA, AAC, and MAC)? Does he see value and image of marketing Idaho as a peer and partner with those Universities?

RS: "I think it's too early to know his opinion on it, but I do think he understands the importance of aligning with the correct peer institutions. I really think the long-term future of the University of Idaho is dependent on being in a conference that not only embraces athletics, but embraces research and academics."

PH: Idaho will be playing at USC and Auburn in 2015, a tough non-conference schedule for any mid-major program. Do programs like Iowa State, Purdue, Indiana, Vanderbilt -- BCS programs that aren't necessarily perrenial powerhouses -- not offer enough of a payout to play there rather than Florida, USC, Oregon, LSU, Auburn, and other regular National Championship contenders?

RS: "It is a very tough schedule, but with all scheduling it is still fluid. I am working on moving games. These schools pay $300-400k more than any of the schools you have mentioned. As we worked on the independent schedule we had to secure some future revenue games -- not knowing how long we would be an independent and not having any conference revenue -- and the second game against USC is a result of this.

"Ideally, as I have stated many times we would like to play one money game for the most money possible each year."

PH: Next fall, Idaho is replacing the return game to Fresno State with a return game at San Diego State instead. Did you consider replacing the Fresno State road game with a home game against an FCS team instead (which would give Idaho 6 home games), rather than replacing the away Fresno game with a game at SDSU?

RS: "What you just proposed is an $830k impact to our budget. $530k we would forfeit from not playing at SDSU, and $300k we would have to pay to get an FCS opponent at home. With scholarship costs increasing by over $1 million since 2008, and other institutional revenue shortfalls, our budget has been impacted by almost $2 million since 2008. That is why it is so important to have people contribute to the VSF and buy season tickets."

PH: Now that Idaho's non-football teams are competing in the geographically friendly Big Sky Conference, it seems that Idaho football can focus on competing in the Sun Belt Conference until a better geographic fit for the football program is found. Is that arrangement sustainable? What would prevent that from being true?

RS: "I think it provides us the most stability that we've had in a long time. The only thing I think that changes it may be is at some point in time I think this whole realignment process will come full circle. Right now you have teams in various geographic areas playing in conferences. At some point in time I think it comes full circle and conferences will reorganize based on geographic areas. If that was going to become a priority, it may create opportunity out west for us.

"But we have stability right now. Every one of our programs suffered because of the conference uncertainty [when the Western Athletic Conference dropped football]. Was the WAC folding, was it not? Well, that impacted recruiting for all of our other programs. Where is your football program going to be? Well, that impacted our recruiting for sure.

"Now that we have some stability, it gives us time to flourish and rebuild, and move forward."

LINK: PART I: "An important hire; we need stability"

LINK: PART II: "Events Center benefits entire campus"

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