The Friday Letter Archive

A collection of the president's weekly messages to the Vandal family


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Friday Letter 2016-04-29:
The Future of UI Football

Please note: this is an archived email message and may not display as originally intended. Some images, links, and functionality may be broken or out of date.

April 29, 2016

Dear Friends,
Yesterday we announced that the University of Idaho Vandal football team will accept an invitation to join the Big Sky Conference (link) , pending State Board of Education approval, starting in fall 2018. UI Athletics Director Rob Spear and Head Football Coach Paul Petrino respect and will implement this decision.

This is the right decision (link) for our students, for academic excellence and long-term success and stature of the University of Idaho. We are, first and foremost, the state's leading residential and research university. The experience of our students and growing our capacity to educate and innovate must be the focal point for all of our actions.

I want to remind everyone what our choices, which we have evaluated over many months, were. We could:

1. Remain in the Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) of Division I as an independent after 2017, waiting for an invitation to join an FBS conference; or
2. Join the Big Sky Conference, in the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) of Division I, gaining full membership in that conference.

The key factors in making this decision were whether UI could realistically expect to become a competitive FBS team that would be asked to affiliate with a stable FBS conference, versus the value of joining the Big Sky.

UI has always been one of the lowest-resourced FBS football teams and has struggled to win. To become successful enough to affiliate with any FBS conference would entail unjustifiable, unsustainable expenditures with only a marginal chance of success. Enduring the significant challenges of competition as an independent weighed against an extremely uncertain future would be irresponsible when we have the alternative of joining one of the most stable FCS conferences that also allows us to renew traditional rivalries and offers our student-athletes the opportunity to excel at an appropriate level of competition, just as they do in our other Big Sky sports programs.

We are very proud of this year’s Big Sky Conference championships (link) : women’s basketball, women’s soccer and women’s golf. Our men’s and women’s tennis teams and men’s golf team are playing for championship titles this weekend. Our overall athletic program, under Rob Spear’s leadership, has excelled and will continue to do so.

We believe in the young men and the coaches on our Vandal football team. They have competed at a high level in the Sun Belt, and I know they will play well this coming fall and the next. Coach Petrino has done an outstanding job, and I am pleased that he is committed to staying with our program. But long-term, having no FBS conference affiliation option is problematic for recruitment, for rivalries that students and other fans get excited about, and poses little to no financial advantage. Continued instability will not help us build a program, and it holds back the university as a whole. Full membership in the Big Sky conference means we have a voice in all conference decisions and a seat at the table next to similar institutions in our geographic region. It is time to make this move.

I understand some alumni and supporters do not agree that an FCS affiliation is our best option. Many passionate Vandals view our place in FBS as a mark of our institution’s “prestige” and “relevance.” The University of Idaho is our state’s land-grant university, the unquestioned statewide leader in higher education. Success on the football field should complement the prestige and relevance of our academic institution, but not define it. Rather, the impact of our institution will define us, as measured by the entire experience for our student body, including student-athletes; by academic excellence (link) across the university; by sustained research (link) , scholarly activity and creative success; and by deep engagement with communities and partnerships with industry.

Over the past year, we have carefully considered our options, listening to alumni and other stakeholders, gathering input through face-to-face conversations, emails and letters, social media and more. We’ve conducted thorough due diligence through internal review and through a report conducted by an independent third-party analyst. We’ve estimated the costs and benefits of independence as they relate to positioning ourselves for the conference affiliation essential for our university to participate at any level of college football. These estimates are both monetary and in terms of the total football experience for our university. Ultimately, that analysis suggests that the University of Idaho — our Athletics program, our student-athletes, our student body and fans, and our friends and supporters — are best served by a move to the Big Sky. We choose not to follow the faint hope of conference reorganizations, but to provide our athletes fair competition and the opportunity to succeed each time they step on the field.

This decision is without precedent in the modern era of college football. I see that a leap into new waters alarms those who care deeply about our university. But the Big Sky Conference is hardly unknown; we have a long history of success in the conference. Big Sky football is exciting and nationally competitive, and our fans will enjoy seeing familiar uniforms from around the region: Montana, Montana State and others. We are fortunate to have this option available. It is a change, though, so let us promise that together we will build a top-tier program that competes for championships. We will create an outstanding student-athlete and community-wide experience around our program, a vibrant football culture that provides a great front porch for Idaho’s leading, national research university, a draw for future students and a continued source of pride for current students.

I recognize this letter can’t answer all questions about this topic, and the move to the Big Sky entails many moving pieces, which we will address as they become clearer and as we have final plans. I also recognize the magnitude of this decision and the strong opinions that surround it, both for and against, but I am confident that joining the Big Sky Conference is the best possible course for our Athletics program and for our university. Of course, changes in the college athletics landscape may occur, and we will always seek the best opportunity for our students, student-athletes, and fans.

The university’s impact is felt every day by our 100,000 Vandal alumni (link) . These women and men lead lives filled with meaning and opportunity. They exercise leadership in their communities and in their work. They are proud of their alma mater and give back so that others can have the same transformative experiences. I know some alumni will be disappointed by this decision. With the passionate support that separates the Vandal family from others, we are committed to a winning program in the Big Sky conference. I want all Vandals to experience success and pride, as part of a total University of Idaho experience that does right by its heritage, its land-grant mission and its future aspirations. That is the best formula for UI to assert its prestige and relevance — an impact that we will continue to grow (link) in the years ahead. Today more than at any time during my presidency, I need your support, and I know that, long term, I can count on it.

Go Vandals!

Chuck Staben


Community Mourns Loss of Dean Paul Joyce

The University of Idaho community grieves the loss of Paul Joyce, dean of the College of Science, who died in a car accident Friday, April 22, near Orofino, Idaho. Paul was a committed member of our university leadership team, a dedicated scientist and researcher, and a valuable teacher and mentor. On Tuesday, UI posthumously awarded Paul the honor of University Distinguished Professor (link) at the annual University Awards for Excellence. The award was accepted by his wife, Jana, and son, Andrew. Services for Paul (link) will be held Saturday in the Admin Auditorium. Those wishing to honor his memory are encouraged to donate to the Paul Joyce scholarship fund through the UI Foundation (link) . With Paul’s death, our university has lost more than an esteemed colleague and leader. We’ve lost a dear friend. Our thoughts continue to be with his family, friends and his colleagues.

Engineering Professor Honored with Bike Shelter

Decagon Devices (link) , a global manufacturer and marketer of scientific instruments, has generously donated nearly $24,000 of the necessary $34,000 needed to construct a memorial to honor civil engineering professor and avid cyclist Michael Dixon, who passed away unexpectedly on May 7, 2014. Decagon Devices is based out of Pullman, Washington, and was founded in 1983 by Dixon’s father-in-law, Gaylon Campbell, a former Washington State University soil scientist. The memorial bike shelter will be located on the north side of the Engineering Physics Building and is being designed by Dixon’s former colleagues and friends, professors Michael Kyte and Mike Lowry, in coordination with UI Facilities Services. If you are interested in giving to the Michael Dixon Memorial Bike Shelter, contact Stacy Rauch, development coordinator in the College of Engineering, by phone at 208-885-7978 or by email at (link) .

Student Earns NSF Fellowship for Grad Research

Priest River native Katey Huggler, who will graduate from the University of Idaho in May with a degree in wildlife resources from the College of Natural Resources, has earned a prestigious fellowship (link) from the National Science Foundation (NSF). The NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Program will provide a three-year stipend and education allowance to Huggler as she studies the impacts of mountain lions on mule deer in south-central Wyoming while pursuing her master’s degree at the University of Wyoming. In addition to Huggler, three UI graduate students earned honorable mentions in the program: Ian Gilman of Erie, Pennsylvania; Shawna Faulkner of Modesto, California; and Kristen Peterson of Salt Lake City.
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