MOSCOW, Idaho – University of Idaho football is returning to the Sun Belt Conference beginning with the 2014 season, school and league officials announced Wednesday.
“We are excited to rejoin the Sun Belt Conference as a football member,” Director of Athletics Rob Spear said. “This membership provides our deserving coaches and student-athletes the opportunity to compete for a conference championship and participate in bowl games, and it provides our department with much needed conference stability in such a volatile environment.””
Spear’s comments were echoed by head coach Paul Petrino, who welcomed a conference home for the Vandals and praised the Sun Belt for its competitiveness.
“We’re extremely excited to get into the Sun Belt Conference,” Petrino said. “It’s a great football league. There are a lot of great coaches in that league.
“I couldn’t be more excited than being a part of the Sun Belt. It’s a great thing for the University of Idaho football program.”
Petrino, who has recruited the southeastern part of the country, said it opens doors to players, too.
“It’s a part of the country where they have a lot of great players,” he said. “It helps us recruit and it will help us get into bowl games.”
University president M. Duane Nellis noted the importance of maintaining football at the FBS level.
"The move to the Sun Belt Conference is an important move for us,” he said. “It provides us a known conference schedule, affiliation, and revenue source as we build strength in our FBS football program."
When the Vandals enter the league in 2014, there will be two six-team divisions. A Western Division with Idaho, New Mexico State, Texas State, Arkansas State, Louisiana-Lafayette and Louisiana-Monroe, and an Eastern Division with Appalachian State, Georgia Southern, Georgia State, South Alabama, Troy and Western Kentucky. Appalachian State and Georgia Southern will be in transition from FCS status. The divisions provide the opportunity for a league championship game.
“The additions of Idaho and New Mexico State marks a significant moment for the Sun Belt Conference,” Sun Belt Commissioner Karl Benson said. “The administrators from our league have been working hard and taking the initiative for the conference to continue its expansion during a time where national realignment has been extensive.
“Having these two FBS programs join the league will give us two teams that are instantly ready to compete for a bowl bid and also gives us the ability to host a conference football championship game should we choose to do so.”
Vandal football was a member of the Sun Belt Conference from 2001-04.