Reports on Monday indicate the Sun Belt Conference is extending football-only membership invitations to Idaho and New Mexico State, beginning with the 2014 season.
The Idaho Statesmen reports the University of Idaho is requesting permission from the State Board of Education to accept the invite. Idaho remains a member of the Western Athletic Conference, which dissolved its football affiliation with the conclusion of the 2012 season.
That left Idaho without a conference for the 2013 season, and a return to the Championship Subdivision‘s Big Sky Conference looking like a realistic possibility. Idaho’s Kibbie Dome is a facilitate more comparable to FCS stadiums than most FBS venues.
New Mexico State found itself in a similar situation as WAC counterpart Idaho, but without the obvious FCS option. Aside from having always been a FBS/Div. I-A football program, NMSU’s Aggie Memorial Stadium seats nearly 31,000 — nearly twice the capacity of the Kibbie Dome.
Both teams are slated to play independent schedules in 2013. NMSU continues regional rivalries with UTEP and New Mexico, and actually crafted a respectable docket. Including visits to the Texas Longhorns and UCLA Bruins, 2012 bowl teams Boston College, Minnesota, Rice and San Diego State are all coming to Las Cruces.
Idaho travels to Florida State, Ole Miss and Arkansas State. Fresno State, Northern Illinois and Temple are the noteworthy visitors to Moscow. The Vandals and Aggies play each other on the season’s final weekend.
The Sun Belt is expanding by four with the additions of NMSU and Idaho. Reports of FCS members Appalachian State and Georgia Southern moving up to accept invitations from the conference made the rounds earlier on Monday.
Rumblings of the league accepting the WAC refugees is an about-face from a year ago, when commissioner Karl Benson said the Sun Belt was not looking to expand on its then 10-program football membership.
Coincidentally, Benson was WAC commissioner shortly before its football collapse. Also of notable coincidence, both NMSU and Idaho were briefly Sun Belt members after the Big West Conference discontinued football.