By 1972 it had become painfully obvious to Idaho that despite the founding schools promises, the Big Sky wasn’t moving to the University division. The Vandals desperately wanted to maintain University athletic status. The only way to do this was to play all out of conference games on the road against University division teams. However, being competitive against these teams was extremely difficult when Idaho was restricted by Big Sky scholarship rules.
In 1972 the Big Sky voted to cut the number of scholarships a school could offer. The conference restricted football scholarships to 62 per school. University division schools, however, were allowed to give up to 150 scholarships. As a result the relationship between Idaho and the Big Sky became so strained that Idaho reached out to the PCAA.
The Vandals first asked the Regents permission to leave the Big Sky in October 1972. The request was denied. Instead, the Board asked the conference to allow the Vandals extra scholarships. Idaho State University and Boise State University were two members of the Big Sky adamantly opposed to Idaho leaving the Big Sky. Adding further fuel to the Idaho-BSU rivalry was the fact that the Big Sky agreed to pay $18,000 debt to the Camellia Bowl. The NCAA ruled Boise State had used and ineligible player.
Idaho’s performance on the field in the 1972 season certainly didn’t support the attempt to leave the conference. At the time of the vote, the Vandals were 0-2 against Big Sky opponents. Further, there was a feeling on the Board of Regents that “some of the best games we have in Idaho are between our own schools“.
Before looking to the PCAA as a last resort, the Vandals had been working on forming a new, ten-team league which would include Idaho, Boise State, Idaho State, Utah State, Weber State, Fresno State, San Jose State, Long Beach State, Pacific, and Hawaii. Plans apparently fell through because Idaho was the only team to seek the Regents permission to leave the Big Sky. The issue was far from dead, though, and Idaho would ask the Regents again to let them leave the Big Sky. The next time the Vandals would lay out a much stronger case for leaving.
The Vandals ended the disappointing 1972 season with a 4-7 record. However, the high point was a dramatic 22-21 victory over Boise State at Bronco Stadium. The game was apparently played for the “Gem Bowl” trophy. I’ve never seen this trophy and would be deeply appreciative of any further information any readers may have. Back in Moscow, Tartan Turf was installed in the new Idaho Stadium for the first time.
Idaho’s defeat of Northern Illinois in Moscow
and Idaho’s loss to Pacific
and against WSU
and against Western Michigan
and against Ohio