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Idaho may return to Big Sky football

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(STATS) - The University of Idaho appears ready to rejoin the Big Sky Conference for football, becoming the first program to drop from the FBS level to the FCS.

Idaho has scheduled a news conference with president Chuck Staben, athletic director Rob Spear and football coach Paul Petrino for Thursday. Footballscoop and the Idaho Statesman reported the Vandals will return to the Big Sky, where they played from 1963-95.

The conference already is home to Idaho's other athletic teams.

The Sun Belt Conference announced March 1 that it would drop Idaho and New Mexico State, who are both midway through four-year associate memberships, after the 2017 season. At the time, Staben said its offer from the Big Sky would have to be accepted by May 4.

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Idaho has struggled as an FBS program, averaging 3.7 wins during its 20-year run, but only 2.9 per season since 2000. It would face an uncertain future and the prospect of being an independent for the second time if it remains in the FBS.

To return to the FCS, Idaho would have to decrease its football scholarships from 85 to 63, but it's a level in which it thrived previously, winning eight Big Sky titles.

The Big Sky has 13 football-playing members: Cal Poly, Eastern Washington, Idaho State, Montana, Montana State, North Dakota, Northern Arizona, Northern Colorado, Portland State, Sacramento State, Southern Utah, UC Davis and Weber State.

If it increases to 14, the Big Sky could split into two seven-team divisions.