I’m hearing the opening verse from Sgt. Pepper’s: “It was 20 years ago today…” Yes, it was. On this day in 1996, Boise State and Idaho moved to the Big West Conference—and to Division I-A (now the FBS) in football. The Broncos and Vandals’ journeys have been divergent, of course. That first season, Idaho went 6-5 and blasted Boise State 64-19 in the last game of the season That would be coach Pokey Allen’s final game with the Broncos, as he passed away six weeks later. BSU went 2-10 in 1996, the worst season in school history, as Pokey spent most of the season in Canada for cancer treatment. By 1999, things had turned around for Boise State, and it’s gone 186-35 since with 12 conference championships, 13 10-win seasons, 16 bowl games and three Fiesta Bowl trophies. Things have worked out well.
Idaho marks this occasion in a different way. The late 1990’s were fine, with a Big West championship and a Humanitarian Bowl title in 1998 and a combined 27-18 mark in the first four years of Division I-A football. But conference upheaval and the college football arms race has wreaked havoc with the program, and it has never been able to string any momentum together. The Vandals have gone 46-144 in the new century, with 15 losing seasons in 16 years. There was the 8-5 campaign and the Humanitarian Bowl crown in 2009, but Idaho slipped back into the abyss after that and is now set to return to the FCS and the Big Sky in 2018 (still a bone of contention with many Vandal fans).
Boise State has seen 37 of its players appear in NFL regular season games since joining the FBS, but for one of them, yesterday was not a good day. Dallas defensive end Demarcus Lawrence had his appeal denied and will have to serve his four-game suspension for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy. Lawrence, who led the Cowboys with eight sacks last season, will be eligible to return on October 3, although he will be able to participate in training camp and in preseason games for Dallas. This will adversely affect the Cowboys in September, as fellow defensive end Randy Gregory is already suspended the first four games of the season for the same reason.
There’s player movement news today. The dynamic has changed at quarterback for Louisiana-Lafayette with word that former LSU QB Anthony Jennings is headed for the Ragin’ Cajuns as a graduate transfer. Jennings started all but one game for the Tigers in 2014 but lost the No. 1 job last fall. ULL is not set at quarterback—it wouldn’t be surprising at all to see Jennings start when the season opens against Boise State on September 3. Elsewhere, former Cal quarterback Zach Kline, who was Jared Goff’s backup, will be a graduate transfer at Fresno State. The Bulldogs need him. Kilton Anderson, who finished last season as the starter, is recovering from shoulder surgery.
The Eugene Emeralds picked away at the Boise Hawks last night and left Memorial Stadium with a 5-1 victory, taking two of three games in the series. The Hawks were limited to just four hits—one of them was Jacob Bosiokovic’s second home run of the season. Boise slips to 4-10 on the season as it begins a three-game home set tonight versus the Hillsboro Hops.
Former Hawk Rich Hill will start for the Oakland A’s tomorrow against Pittsburgh after more than a month on the disabled list. Considering the stellar May he had put together, this is not the way Hill envisioned his June going. Tomorrow will mark his first start since May 29, when he departed in the seventh inning against the Tigers with a groin strain. This after Hill was the American League Pitcher of the Month for May, when he went 5-1 with a 2.13 ERA in six starts. It can still be a renaissance year for the 36-year-old lefthander, who resumes a five-game winning streak and has struck out 37 batters in the last 38 innings. This is the first season Hill’s been a full-time starting pitcher since 2007 with the Chicago Cubs.
The way his season has gone, it’s hard to believe Boise High grad James Hoyt hasn’t been called up to the majors. But the Houston Astros prospect and current Fresno Grizzlies closer has been named to the All-Star Futures Game that features baseball’s top Triple-A players a week from Sunday in San Diego. Hoyt, a 29-year-old righthander, has 19 saves and a 1.88 ERA with 68 strikeouts in just 38 1/3 innings this season.
Graham DeLaet appears to be refreshed after taking a month off to get his golfing mind straight. The former Boise State star has returned to the PGA Tour at the Barracuda Championship, the only PGA Tour event that uses the Modified Stableford scoring format, which encourages aggressive play. Points are awarded for each hole, and DeLaet accumulated nine points yesterday, good for a tie for 15th after the first round. Nampa’s Tyler Aldridge was better, earning 10 points to sit in a tie for 12th.
Troy Merritt has embarked on a mini-European tour and is playing the French Open, a.k.a. the 100th Open de France at Le Golf National in Paris. Merritt opened yesterday with a one-under 70 and is tied for 18th. He’s the top American on the leaderboard (uh, there are only two other Americans). Merritt is targeting the Scottish Open and British Open fields on this trip; he doesn’t have spots in either yet. A top 10 finish this weekend would get him a berth in the Scottish Open next week at Castle Stuart, and a good showing there could land him in the Open Championship at Royal Troon. This is Merritt’s first visit to Europe.
Nick Symmonds posted an Instagram photo of his rather ugly ankle yesterday, and the accompanying content said it all for the Bishop Kelly grad and 800-meter specialist: “This is my left ankle, it has been good to me. It has held up for thousands of miles, helped me win six national titles, taken me to two Olympic Games. However, this left ankle of mine currently has a torn ligament and a stress fracture, it will not allow me to compete in the 2016 Olympic Trials. I should say I feel devastated, but honestly I feel nothing but happiness and gratitude that my legs have held up as long as they did. Not saying I’ve retired or anything, but my 2016 season is now over.”
Also on the Olympic Trials front, College of Idaho track and field coach Pat McCurry doubles as a post-collegiate coach for some notable distance runners, steeplechase specialists in particular. McCurry mentors Emmett native Megan Rolland, a former Humboldt State standout who will race in the 3,000-meter steeplechase as the No. 9 seed Monday in Eugene. McCurry also coaches former University of Idaho steeplechase star Alycia Butterworth, who will compete in the 3,000-meter steeplechase at the Canadian Olympic Trials in Edmonton next Friday. In the Olympic Swimming Trials, Boise State’s Brittany Aoyama finished 53rd yesterday in the morning prelims of the 100-meter freestyle. Aoyama will wrap up her stay in Omaha tomorrow in the 50 free.
This Day In Sports…July 1 in many a year:
Here’s the rest of the new conference affiliation checklist beyond the 1996 milestone. On this day in 1970, Boise State officially became a member of the Big Sky. In 2001, 15 years ago today, BSU and Idaho went their separate ways—the Broncos off to the WAC while the Vandals began to split time with the Sun Belt (for football) and the Big West (for all other sports). Idaho joined Boise State in the WAC in 2005. Today’s the five-year anniversary of the Broncos going to the Mountain West. And in 2014, the Vandals became members of the Sun Belt again in football and rejoined the Big Sky in all other sports.
(Tom Scott hosts the Scott Slant segment Sunday nights at 10:30PM on KTVB’s Sunday Sports Extra and anchors five sports segments each weekday on 93.1 The Ticket. He also served as color commentator on KTVB’s telecasts of Boise State football for 14 seasons.)