The UI countdown, for better or worse

Technically, we’re into Idaho’s final two days as an FBS football program. Conference changes in college athletics traditionally take place July 1, meaning that on Sunday Vandal football will officially be back in the Big Sky. It’s a tough pill to swallow for many. And perhaps Chuck Staben didn’t handle the revelation so well two years ago. But it’s the right move. Costs are only escalating in the FBS. The financial gap between the Power 5 conferences and the Group of 5 has become Hell’s Canyon. Bodybag games cannot compensate for that. Population base matters more than ever, and the Palouse isn’t keeping up. Sports support is divided there between the Vandals and Washington State, and you know who’s going to win that battle. The Big Sky is a place where the Vandals can survive and thrive.

The population issue is reflected directly in the stands in the Kibbie Dome. This comes right from the NCAA’s website: “Football Bowl Subdivision teams have to meet minimum attendance requirements (average 15,000 people in actual or paid attendance per home game), which must be met once in a rolling two-year period.” The NCAA has been reluctant to enforce that regulation, to say the least. The last time Idaho topped 15,000 per game was 10 years ago. Last season the Vandals averaged 10,533.

Idaho and Boise State went into Division I-A together in 1996 as members of the Big West. Although one of the catalysts for the move was the Broncos’ magical 13-2 season under Pokey Allen in 1994, the season Boise State broke the Vandals’ 12-game winning streak in the rivalry, Idaho was still seen as having the upper hand in football. But through all the Vandals’ success in the 80’s and early 90’s, the needle barely budged on facility improvements. Idaho was already behind the eight-ball. So when the winning seasons stopped at the turn of the century, things started spiraling. The end of Big West football sent the Vandals to the far-flung Sun Belt. A little over a decade later, the end of WAC football again sent them back to the Sun Belt, which ultimately decided it just wasn’t working.

Idaho has been playing football since 1894. The university joined the Pacific Coast Conference, the forerunner of the current Pac-12, in 1922, playing league games against Washington, Washington State, Oregon and USC that year. From 1955-58, the Vandals lost 14 straight conference games and elected not to follow fellow schools into a new league venture when the PCC was disbanded in 1959. They were charter members of the Big Sky in 1963, although they were still considered to be in the “University Division” of college football, with the rest of the conference in the “College Division.” When the NCAA formed Divisions I, II and III in 1973, Idaho remained Division I. It wasn’t until 1978 when Division I-AA (the current FCS) was formed that the Vandals would unify with the rest of the Big Sky as a I-AA school.

Jay Ajayi is positioning himself for a big payday next winter. The former Boise State great has switched agents, hiring one of the big-timers, Drew Rosenhaus, as he enters his contract year with the Philadelphia Eagles. Rosenhaus is known for landing some of the NFL’s most lucrative deals. Ajayi is set to make about $1.9 million this season. Of course, if he wants that number to explode, he needs to take matters into his own hands on the field. Ajayi returned to form last fall once he was traded from Miami to Philly and helped the Eagles to a Super Bowl title. He had rushed for 1,272 yards with three 200-yard games in his second season with the Dolphins in 2016.

We talked earlier this month about the high praise Cedrick Wilson got for his football IQ from Dallas wide receivers coach Sanjay Lal. Drew Pearson, the team’s Ring of Honor feature receiver in the late 1970’s, has also taken notice of the former Boise State star and thinks he can help the Cowboys. “I think they need to shake up that receiver corps, because none of them performed well last season,” Pearson told Will Brinson of CBS Sports. “The guy you might want to watch is the guy they got out of Boise State, Cedrick Wilson. I heard coming out of the rookie minicamp that he was one of the guys who stood out and showed a lot of ability to take his game to the next level.” Wilson is still an underdog as he tries to make the roster. The sixth-round draft pick is one of eight players essentially fighting for three backup spots.

Troy Merritt bogeyed two of his first four holes yesterday at the Quicken Loans National in Potomac, MD, but he recovered to shoot a two-under 68 in the first round. The former Boise State star, who won this tournament three years ago for his only PGA Tour victory, is tied for 21st and is in position for a positive weekend. That guy in the group ahead of him at TPC Potomac, Tiger Woods, carded a 70 with his much celebrated new putter.

On the diamond, the Boise Hawks rallied from a 5-1 hole to pull even with Hillsboro after a four-run sixth inning last night. But the Hops pushed across a run on a Boise error in the eighth to take a 6-5 victory at Memorial Stadium. The Hawks hit the road this weekend for a five-game series versus the Tri-City Dust Devils. They’ll be back for a 4th of July extravaganza against Eugene. Also, Caldwell High grad Jordan Britton didn’t have many stats for Oregon State this season, but he’s getting a national championship ring. The Beavers blanked Arkansas 5-0 behind Kevin Abel’s complete-game two-hitter last night in the deciding Game 3 of the College World Series, and Britton was part of the dogpile.

This Day In Sports…June 29, 1990:

For the first time since 1898, two major league pitchers throw no-hitters on the same day. Dave Stewart of the Oakland A’s whitewashed the Toronto Blue Jays 5-0, and Fernando Valenzuela of the L.A. Dodgers handcuffed the St. Louis Cardinals 6-0. For each player, it was the last great moment of his career.

Stewart was dominant in the 1980’s and was coming off a World Series title with the A’s, while Valenzuela was a sensation when he burst on the scene in 1981 and was the Dodgers’ fan favorite for a decade.

(Tom Scott hosts the Scott Slant segment during the football season on KTVB’s Sunday Sports Extra and anchors five sports segments each weekday on 93.1 FM KTIK. He also served as color commentator on KTVB’s telecasts of Boise State football for 14 seasons.)