The Idaho Vandals and the New Mexico State Aggies will depart the Sun Belt Conference in football after the 2017 season, the conference announced today.
Idaho and New Mexico State both joined the Sun Belt Conference in 2014 for football only after the demise of the WAC in 2012 and one season as FBS Independents in 2013.
Both schools signed four-year agreements to play in the Sun Belt through 2017. Those agreements will expire without renewal.
“This was a strategic decision that was reached following a thorough and complete review of our options,” said Sun Belt Conference and Texas State University President Dr. Denise Trauth. “The Sun Belt’s Presidents and Chancellors strongly believe it is in the best interest of the conference to have a core membership of 10 football teams that are geographically located within the ‘footprint’ of the conference and that these 10 members also compete in all conference sports. This decision, along with the full 12-team membership that goes into place for the 2016-17 season with the addition of Coastal Carolina University, will reduce travel demands and missed class time for all Sun Belt student-athletes – while also furthering the development of regional rivalries within the conference.”
Although it’s a step down to the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS), the Big Sky Conference has extended an invitation to the Idaho football program. The Vandals will weigh that option along with playing as an FBS Independent.
“We are disappointed by the Sun Belt’s decision,” said Idaho president Chuck Staben. “But we are optimistic about the options before us and we are continuing to diligently consider our future affiliation as an opportunity to find the stability and full participation we have not experienced in the Sun Belt. We will make a decision in the coming months.”
New Mexico State’s future is a little more murky. The Aggies could decide to play as an FBS Independent, but it would be harder for them to build a schedule each season.
“We’re disappointed with this outcome, but we respect the decision of the Sun Belt Conference,” said NMSU President Garrey Carruthers. “We appreciate being able to play football in the Sun Belt Conference for the past two years and look forward to continuing in the league for the next two years.”
With Idaho and NMSU out, the Sun Belt Conference will have ten football members in 2018: Appalachian State, Arkansas State, Coastal Carolina, Georgia State, Georgia Southern, UL Lafayette, ULM, South Alabama, Texas State and Troy.
The Sun Belt will also have “serious discussions” about a conference championship game and a “decision will be made in the very near future.”