This was difficult to sit down and write. Honestly, I expected to have this out there last week. The words simply would not come out onto the screen each time I’ve sat down to write this.
It’s Idaho, Chuck Staben and the Big Sky! This shit is hard.
But, I’d like to thank Matt Linehan, arguably the face of the university at the moment, for putting it much more perfectly than I can.
Fresh off of a 381-yard, four-touchdown night during a 61-point output and a bowl victory, the junior quarterback had some choice words for our university president by calling him tone deaf.
Yes sir. Chuck Staben. Tone deaf.
He said these words while claiming Idaho belonged at the FBS level. They followed a four-win season with a nine-win season and will more than likely complete 20 wins in three seasons with Matt Linehan under center for one more season, Idaho’s last in the Sun Belt Conference and the FBS level.
Linehan later apologized for the comments and walked back on them. He did this because he’s a mature individual who doesn’t hold vindictive feelings for a person I’m sure he has respect for.
His words, though, were not out of line. They were certainly justified.
Then, last night, Idaho’s graduating tight end and one of the leaders of the offense had this to say:
This is an ode to Staben’s public relations pitch to the Idaho Statesman during bowl week, stating the descent to FCS isn’t a move down. No, it’s a move forward!
Cowan resorted to a more direct, less passive-aggressive approach to the situation prior to the season by directly sending Staben a letter stating why he thinks the program belongs in FBS.
Staben wrote back, apparently, but it must not have been convincing if the more mature players on the team are resorting to taking shots at him using media.
Elsewhere, the most vocal Vandal fans who oppose the April decision to accept a full invitation from the Big Sky Conference are calling for Staben to be fired.
And through it all, Staben recycles the same tired lines and same basic logic.
This much we know: Chuck Staben made this decision independently and went against the advice and wishes of his 12-year athletic director and fourth-year head football coach.
And here’s the thing: It might be the correct decision!
Because here’s a fun fact: It’s possible to want the program to be an FBS independent instead but also think FCS is a logical decision that could mean the long-term health and success of the program.
There are those of us out there who are capable of seeing the positives of both sides and ultimately accepting what is best for the program.
If FBS independence was completely and utterly impossible and the Big Sky is the only way to maintain the program, then … Okay! (… we don’t know that it was).
Putting academics in front of athletics? Dope! The ability to win conference championships regularly? Coo’. Natties??? Oh fucks yeah.
Okay, well, I’m worried about the drop in revenue, the long-term effect on other programs and visibi….. Chuck? You still there?
And this is where the conversation ends. Instead of answers we get campaign slogans.
Do you know what we actually need right now?
Oh, but has he told you about the University of Chicago yet?
Staben amused us in the press conference by comparing this drop to the University of Chicago, when it reality the situations have literally nothing in common.
If we are speaking in factual terms, which we like to do in journalism, then the fact of the matter is that what Idaho is doing is completely unprecedented. And that kind of decision requires civil discourse.
The decision, announcement and press conference to move down to the FCS happened just about a month after the Sun Belt announced it would not extend its four-year agreement with Idaho.
While the decision was certainly mulled upon before the Sun Belt’s vote, one month is not enough time for Chuck Staben to not only get the thoughts of his athletic director, who had been making these difficult decisions for a decade, but also the coaches and players who will explicitly deal with this decision. It’s not enough time for Staben to talk to the donor and season ticket base.
Discussions should have happened when a Sun Belt-less future became reality.
And this isn’t just to poll for our opinions, which obviously would have been FBS, but for Staben to argue his case.
If Staben is going to make this decision than the onus is on him to do the necessary research. It’s on you to not just tell me how you’ve talked with Spear to make sure programs won’t get cut. It’s on you to tell us specifically why FBS independence wasn’t even possible or why the fictional Big Sky Conference deadline couldn’t have been pushed back.
It’s on you to impassionately tell us why this is right, not give us gibberish.
The Big Sky had a standing offer for Idaho for 20 years and there is not a single program out there attractive enough to take Idaho’s spot as the 14th Big Sky football program. A new commissioner wasn’t going to change course and pull that offer.
But at least he made his intentions clear. His comment on football complimenting the university, and not the other way around, is telling. It’s honestly not an upsetting place for him to come from.
Personally, I can get behind and love that aspect. A vast majority of college football programs are a drain on universities, using institutional and state subsidies with almost no chance of explicitly giving that money back. Instead, that money is “invested” for image and the chance of increased visibility and income if the program wins.
Okay, but you have coaches and freshmen in other programs who have no idea if they’ll be able to compete through the course of their four years or if they’ll have jobs when Idaho’s football guarantee games start to pay the FCS standard of $500K a pop, as compared to the seven figures they currently get to keep other programs afloat. Because, remember, Idaho’s athletic department currently breaks even right now because of massive university subsidies and nearly $2 Million a year in guarantee games.
Budget cuts are going to have to start coming from somewhere, and Staben casually slid those questions down to the athletic director who didn’t make this decision in the first place.
Matt Linehan owes no apology for what he said following the bowl game. The body of work he and this program have put in since 2013 will have no reverberations past 2018. Winning a bowl game in 2016 and 2017 means nothing after the drop, when the slashing of scholarships and drastically different recruiting strategy means the program will have to completely re-invent itself.
They weren’t even given the opportunity to at least plead their case. If they were, then they wouldn’t resort to using the media to get their message out.
At the end of the day, even the #FIRECHUCKSTABEN crowd wants the same thing as those who are fully behind the FCS transition. We want a healthy University of Idaho football program that gives us something to be proud of. Most of us could get behind and rally around the Big Sky.
But, this wasn’t the way to go about it.