The events of the preceding two years came to a head in 1973. The Vandal athletic program was losing a lot of money. To help solve the problem, Idaho was invited to join the Pacific Coast Athletic Conference (PCAA) along with Cal State Fullerton with Utah State to follow shortly after. The only thing that stood in the way of the Vandals playing lucrative University division football was a release from the Big Sky Conference, the conference that Idaho had helped establish. To obtain that release, permission was needed form the State Board of Education (SBOE).
A supportive President Hartung presented the Vandals case before the SBOE. He said the Vandals stood to lose as much as $230,000 per year if forced to remain in the Big Sky and forgo the television and attendance paydays that would come with PCAA membership. The Big Sky, understandably, did not want Idaho to leave. Although Idaho had promised to maintain games with its in-state rivals, Boise State and Idaho State in particular were less than supportive of Idaho’s attempt to leave. Contributing to the Vandals argument for release was that Idaho could not be competitive against the likes of Washington State (WSU), Colorado State et. al if the Big Sky would not increase the number of scholarships allowed. In addition, the university said, athletics is one of the best marketing tools for the institution. Further, Idaho argued, attendance was suffering because of the competition the Vandals were playing. WSU regularly attracted four times the crowds Idaho brought in. The issue divided the SBOE and the state as a whole. In the end the board decided against Idaho’s pleas to leave the Big Sky.
Janet Hay of Nampa
M.T. Deaton of Pocatello
D.F. Engelking, of Boise, Supt of Public Instruction
J.P. Munson of Sandpoint
A.L. Alford, Jr. of Lewiston
Ed Benoit of Twin Falls
Kenneth Thatcher of Idaho Falls
John Swartley of Sandpoint, Chairman
Describing the boards decision as an Armageddon for Vandal athletics, the alumni were understandably upset with the decision. The president of the alumni board offered his personal opinion that the University should immediately discontinue football rather than put the program through the slow painful death that would inevitably result from having to play College division football on the Palouse. Alumni and supporters alike besieged the State Board of Education with phone calls, threats of law suits, and more. But, it was all for naught. The decision had been made and President Hartung had vowed to never bring the divisive issue before the SBOE again.
The results on the field were the least noteworthy events of the 1973 football season. In what was hoped to be Idaho’s final season in the Big Sky, the Vandals finished 4-7 including a loss to rival Boise State in Moscow. However, Idaho ended the season on a high note with a 43-0 drubbing of ISU in Idaho Stadium.
Idaho beats UTEP in Moscow by nearly 50 points.
Idaho against WSU
Idaho’s loss to Boise State