The 1960 season contained quirks on and off the field. On the field, the Vandals lost to San Jose State on a fluke safety. With three seconds left in the game the Vandals intercepted a Spartan pass and the ball was Vandal player was tackled in the end zone. The officials ruled that he had possession before the clock ran out and awarded San Jose State two points and the season-ending victory. Idaho’s only victory in 1960 came in Honolulu against future WAC-mate Hawaii.
Off the field things didn’t get any better. The collapse of the Pacific Coast Conference left Idaho without a conference affiliation for football. For baseball, track, tennis, and golf they participated in the “Northern Division“. The league consisted of the five northwest members of the old Pacific Coast conference.
Meanwhile the Skyline Conference, from which Utah and BYU had just broken off, was on the verge of folding. There was hope, of course, that Idaho could fill one of the holes left by the Utah schools. Some writers actually saw it as a blessing that Idaho could be competitive with like-sized schools such as Utah State, Colorado State, Wyoming, and Denver.
And if the Skyline wasn’t interested, perhaps Idaho could be considered for the new league being formed by the likes of New Mexico and BYU. If the Oregon schools and Washington State joined the league it would be nearly an ideal fit for the Vandals. The new league, of course, would be the WAC and, in the end, would not include Idaho. Washington State would choose the AAWU and the Oregon schools would follow soon after. Despite Idaho’s interest in the WAC the Vandals would not be invited.
Although a member, Idaho had been the little sister of the PCC for quite some time. Idaho rarely played games in California, and the Vandals were given a smaller portion of Rose Bowl gate receipts than their bigger conference mates. Gaining membership in an eight-team Skyline conference, though, would allow Idaho to schedule 3 out-of-conference games against its traditional Pacific Northwest rivals while competing for a conference championship against schools of similar size.
Behind the scenes, Idaho’s president Theophilus was diligently working to find a solution to Idaho’s athletic problems. He had held several meetings with prominent boosters, state officials, and similar parties. In one such attempt to solicit feedback Dr. Theophilus contacted James Brown, who was the controlling interest of the Idaho Statesman. In a particularly blunt letter Mr. Brown responded to Dr. Theophilus that the answer to Idaho’s football problem was simple: more players. He went on to add that only Dr. Theophilus had the power to remedy the situation. In response to the President’s query about whom Idaho should play and associate with Mr. Brown was even more scathing:
As far as Idaho entering into a conference with Montana or Dakota teams, the suggested leaves me nauseated. We don’t want Idaho football to go backward any more than we want the university to revert to a junior college. We have continued relations with Oregon and Washington colleges. That is a great nucleus. But we endanger it by discussing smaller schools that never had an athletic program in their lives. We also endanger our own future by even discussing a weaker conference. We are advertising defeat. I am not that kind of Idahoan. Nor are the Vandals.
These words could have been spoken today and surely, in hindsight, were exactly accurate and foreshadowed the future. Remember, this was not some crazy fan sending a letter to the President. This was the owner of the Idaho Statesman whose advice was sought out by Dr. Theophilus.
On the facilities front, Idaho was in need of money to replace the aging Neale Stadium. Even in 1960 the rumors of a joint stadium with Washington State abounded. A joint stadium at this point in time may have turned around Idaho’s fortunes. WSU discussed the stadium before their Board of Regents in 1960 implying the proposed stadium would be located between Moscow and Pullman, have a retractable roof, and 30,000 seats. Unfortunately it was not to be. Another interesting note is that the small size of Memorial Gym was cited as a hindrance to public gatherings on campus. President Theophilus stated in 1960 that Idaho needed at least 6,000 seats for basketball. Keep in mind this was two decades before legendary coach Don Monson captured lightning in a bottle by attracting over 10,000 fans to the Kibbie Dome for a basketball game. These days, Idaho is still discussing an arena in the 5-6 thousand range. It would be nothing short of a tragedy if funding kept this visionary idea from moving forward, as suggested by the Lewiston Tribune.
Here a video of Idaho taking on WSU in 1960.
and against Oregon State
and against Arizona
and against Washington, killer of the Pacific Coast Conference