The culmination of Idaho’s search for an Athletic Director was the selection of Oregon State assistant coach Ed Knecht. Ten years earlier Knecht was an assistant coach at Idaho before he left to pursue head coaching opportunities in the high school ranks. Knecht would become the architect of Idaho’s failed attempt to maintain a University status football program.
1969 also saw the admission of Boise State College into the Big Sky Conference. Although the Vandals football schedule was already set through 1978 the two schools were eager to begin play. BSC football coach Tony Knapp suggested that Idaho cancel its 1970 contest with Portland State in order to schedule the broncos. Idaho’s new Athletic Director Ed Knecht remained open to the possibility that the two schools could meet prior to 1978.
Despite the addition of in-state rival BSC to the league – a motion initiated by the Vandals, Idaho was still growing increasingly frustrated with the Big Sky membership. Idaho had asked several times that the scholarship limits of the conference be raised so that the Vandals could be competitive with other University level programs. The conference refused. In order to maintain University status Idaho had to play 40 percent of its schedule against major college opponents. This requirement lead to a tremendous amount of travel. In fact, Idaho lead the nation in miles traveled for a college football team.
In 1969 the Vandals were forced to play home games at Washington State’s Rogers Field. The Vandals were without a home field as Neale Stadium was ruled unsafe due to fire. As a gesture of good will Idaho offered discounts to WSU students who chose not to make the trip to Spokane to see their Cougars battle Pacific 8 opponents.
In the coming years both Idaho and Washington State would build new stadiums. It was a once-in-a-lifetime occurrence that both schools would need stadiums at the exact same time. The much rumored joint stadium idea actually had some traction back in those days. Ed Knecht spoke to the Spokane Daily Chronicle about the idea suggesting that even the local high schools could participate in the joint venture. And, of course, the stadium would have state-of-the-art artificial turf. It appeared that the issue was more than a pipe dream since the Chronicle reported that President Hartung openly discussed the idea before the Board of Regents. President Hartung told the board that there would be virtually no cost difference whether Idaho built its own stadium or a joint venture with Washington State. What a terrible tragedy that Idaho chose the route it did.
Idaho finished the season a disappointing 2-8 with the only victories coming against Southern Miss and Montana State. A rematch with Southern Miss nearly 30 years later would mark Idaho’s first ever bowl appearance. 1969 also marked the end of the long Vandal tradition of playing an annual “home” game in front of the Boise population base. The next year the Boise State Broncos would join the Big Sky and the Vandals would only play in Boise when it was against their hated rivals from the south.
The burgeoning football rivalry was a reflection of the festering regional rivalry existing from beginning of statehood. That fact became even more apparent as Boise State came into the state university system in 1969 and already limited funding for higher education became a hot button issue between the north and south. Republicans and the Idaho governor recommended funding only the newly acquired Boise State to the full level requested by the State Board of Education. Democrats naturally opposed the proposal, but the fight was a microcosm of historical issues within the state. Even the state board of education wondered why Boise State was getting special treatment when they were quoted in the media as saying “no one has offered an explanation why the board’s judgement was sound in the case of Boise State College but unacceptable in the case of ISU and the U of I”
A bright spot in the season was the performance of Jerry Hendren. The Idaho standout was invited to play in the Senior Bowl.
Game film of Idaho taking on Oregon
and against Northern Illinois