In 1962, as in the previous three years, the Vandals were dismal. The Idaho team lost again to rival Washington State and a group of students walked the 8 miles back to Moscow from Pullman to pay of the debt from the wager on the annual Battle of the Palouse. However, in January of 1962 the Regents removed head coach Skip Stahley and replaced him with Dee Andros. Stahley would remain with the University as Athletic Director and Andros would go on to lead the Vandals to their most successful season in over two decades. In 1962 Andros lead the Vandals into battle at Salt Lake against the Utah Utes. It was a rivalry dating back to 1908. The Utes would win a hard-fought game in 1962 to take a 13-10-2 series advantage. However, Andros was very complimentary of his team saying “the people of Idaho have every right to be proud of these young men“.
This latest round of upheaval in athletics lead to rumors of football being de-emphasized. The regents put that rumor to rest, but were supportive of restructuring Idaho’s schedule. Idaho desired to continue playing the other Pacific Northwest schools but also wanted to balance the schedule with smaller schools more in line with Idaho’s size. New money injected into the recruiting program allowed Idaho to expand beyond their traditional recruiting-by-mail philosophy.
As Idaho prepared for the 1962 season arrangements were being made for the annual games in Boise. This years contest would turn out to be a 45-7 loss for Idaho. But, as always, the annual game in Boise was about much more than just a football game as Idaho legend Guy Wicks explained in his letter to President Theophilus:
Since this is legislative year, you have indicated that you wish to get a maximum amount of University publicity, and benefits for the University, from the football game in Boise. The usual ticket distribution to state elective officials – and others – can be taken care of as in the past, however I believe there are other activities that may prove beneficial…
Stahley, serving as athletic director, was instrumental in the formation of the Big Sky conference and has gone down in Idaho lore as the visionary who considered the other northwest schools “suckers” for rejoining the former PCC schools in the new AAWU. Stahley’s small thinking and advocacy for playing smaller schools led Idaho squarely to the Big Sky. The six founding schools of what would become the Big Sky Conference met in Spokane to discuss the formation of the all-sports league. What started out as a desire to form a basketball conference would be finalized into an all-sports pact. At the meeting several names were considered for the proposed conference including Big West, Western States, Western Empire, Northwest States, and, irony of all ironies, Mountain West.
In an article which could have been written word for word today, this columnist explains all the reasons Idaho can’t compete at the highest level of football. He also explores Idaho’s limited options for an athletic conference. One thing that stands out, though, is that Idaho seemed to naively believe that Washington State and the Oregon schools would always be there willing to play at Idaho. In essence, Idaho is too small, and too poor, to be considered for any of the more prestigious conferences. Though Idaho considered themselves above the Montanas and Idaho States of the world the fact was that no invitation was coming for a more prestigious conference.
Unfortunately for Idaho, the Vandals were not going to be considered for membership in the newly formed AAWU. Washington State had recently been admitted and talk was now focused on adding the Oregon schools in order to get back to the NCAA mandated minimum of six schools. It doesn’t appear that Idaho was even discussed as a possible member in the new AAWU. The Vandals’ only real options at this point were either to go independent again or to join the proposed Big Sky Conference.
This rumored conference did not sit well with the Idaho alumni. The alumni base clearly supported independence and nearly 20 alumni signed a letter addressed to President Theophilus pleading with him to reject the future Big Sky:
We, the undersigned University of Idaho alumni, being deeply interested in the future of athletics at our University, are all in accordance that the University at this time should be not be tied to an unattractive and useless conference such as has recently been proposed. Admittedly, we are below the stature of the former Pacific Coast Conference schools, but remaining independent is much better for our state’s prestige than entering such a lack lustre association as is proposed. It is important to schedule more reasonable opponents, but let us not underrate ourselves.
An interesting piece of trivia regarding the 1962 season was that Neale Stadium hosted a Heisman Trophy winner in the form of Terry Baker from Oregon State University. Idaho lost in a 32-0 rout but at least the home crowd got to see a Heisman winner come to Moscow.