Idaho Joins Big Sky, Sun Belt - ABC FOX MONTANA NEWS, WEATHER, SPORTS - KTMF/KWYB

Idaho Joins Big Sky, Sun Belt

University of Idaho Athletics is reuniting with two former conferences as the Vandals move forward into 2014 and beyond.

The football program rejoins the Sun Belt Conference, where the Vandals were one of the original football members when the league added the sport in 2001. Meanwhile, all other sports – except swimming and diving, once again will be members of the Big Sky Conference – a league the Vandals helped form 51 years ago.

“As a founding member of the Big Sky Conference, we are extremely excited for our return and the opportunity to compete against traditional rivals,” director of athletics Rob Spear said.

The same applies for Vandal football’s once again competing in the Sun Belt.

“We look forward to rejoining the Sun Belt Conference and competing in a league that was recently recognized as the best of the ‘Group of Five’ (MAC, MW, CUSA, AEC, Sun Belt) conferences,” Spear said.

Vandal football last played in the Sun Belt in 2004. The Vandals will be competing for the league title with Appalachian State, Arkansas State, Georgia Southern, Georgia State, New Mexico State, South Alabama, Texas State, Troy, Louisiana-Lafayette and Louisiana-Monroe. Idaho opens 2014 league play on Sept. 6 at Louisiana-Monroe. The Sun Belt has ties to four bowls in 2014 and five in 2015. In 2014, the ties are the New Orleans, Camellia, Miami-Beach and GoDaddy.com. The CURE Bowl is added in 2015.

“I’m excited to be playing in a great football conference and competing against some great coaches and players,” football coach Paul Petrino said.

All other sports, except swimming and diving, will see many familiar competitors on their Big Sky schedules. Idaho is one of the six schools that founded the Big Sky Conference. Four of the other original six – Montana, Montana State, Idaho State and Weber State, remain a part of the league. In addition to those four and Idaho, Big Sky members include Cal Poly (football only), Eastern Washington, North Dakota, Northern Arizona, Northern Colorado, Portland State, Sacramento State, Southern Utah and UC Davis (football only).

"We officially welcome Idaho back to the Big Sky Conference,'' said league commissioner Doug Fullerton, who is beginning his 20th year at the helm of the 51-year-old league. "This is a great day for the Big Sky. Many of our schools are ready to renew rivalries with the Vandals. Idaho is coming off a very successful year in the WAC, and we anticipate the Vandals will be a very strong and competitive member of the Big Sky.''

Additionally, the Vandals’ return to the Big Sky also means a return of men’s golf to the league’s championship offerings. Two schools – Binghamton (New York) and Hartford (Conn.), are men’s golf affiliate members.

Idaho swimming and diving will remain in the Western Athletic Conference as an affiliate member.

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