In what amounts to the first domino to fall following the NCAA's conference championship game referendum, the Sun Belt Conference announced this week that both Idaho and New Mexico State will be dropped from the league after the 2017 season.
The Sun Belt Conference announced it would drop the two schools following a league referendum to move forward with a conference championship game with 10 schools. The recent NCAA ruling allows leagues to play a conference championship game even if they don't have the 12 schools formerly required. Without a formal vote, the SBC announced it would drop the two affiliate schools.
Both schools are now faced with the prospect of the next step in college football, which may seriously include the consideration to move down to the FCS level. Both schools sponsored FBS football in the old Western Athletic Conference, but the WAC stopped sponsoring football after it was raided by a number of leagues. After the two schools played out the year as independents, they joined the Sun Belt Conference as affiliates in 2013.
But both schools remain affiliated with other leagues for the remainder of their sports. New Mexico State is a member of the WAC for all other sports, while Idaho is a member of the Big Sky. The Vandals have an open invitation to reclassify to the FCS and join the Big Sky, but the future of the Aggies is more murky.
Coastal Carolina joins the Sun Belt as a full conference member this summer, allowing the league to play at 10 teams. It'll likely play without a championship game in '17 before adding it in 2018.
More than likely, Idaho will have to give serious consideration to the FCS. As two of the worst FBS teams around, they aren't going to receive invitations to join a power conference, and the only geographical league that makes sense is the Mountain West Conference, which doesn't want them. The American has no reason to reach out, and the only other league would be Conference-USA, which doesn't have a need to add two programs who can't consistently win.
Neither provide any league with a lucrative media market or a trail of success. Both teams are overshadowed by MWC teams in their home market, with the Vandals dealing with Boise State and the Aggies failing to compete with New Mexico. And with no real other option, it looks like there's a real chance in moving down to the FCS.
There's obviously a number of connections between Boston College and New Mexico State. Last year's two-FCS schedule was necessitated because the Aggies bought out the contract with the Eagles, leaving Brad Bates scrambling for a home game. In return, the Aggies moved into the Sun Belt to play a conference schedule. Now a few years after joining, NMSU is being kicked out of the league.
At the same time, it's a program with Boston College connections. Former offensive coordinator Doug Martin is the head coach, and former head coach/old friend Frank Spaziani was just hired as defensive coordinator in Las Cruces. Now they'll have a couple of seasons in the Sun Belt while getting ready to face the dark waters ahead.
This is the opposite spectre of football independence. Notre Dame has a long history of playing an independent schedule, and Brigham Young recently went the same route because of its ability to draw as a power-type team. UMass is going independent this year after spending its first few FBS seasons in the Mid-American Conference, a move that looks to be the first step towards building the team into a bowl subdivision program.
But independence isn't sustainable. At the same time, joining a league just for the sake of joining also is not sustainable. New Mexico State bounced from the Sun Belt to the WAC back to the Sun Belt, and now it's left in the lurch. Idaho, as a member of the Big Sky, is left without a home after joining the Sun Belt, a league in which it had no geographic fit whatsoever.
It also puts more of an emphasis on the power of being in a power conference. As the power conferences work to strengthen within their ranks without realignment, the Group of Five conferences face a very different proposition. A potential thinning of the herd isn't necessarily a bad thing, but there needs to be a reasonable expectation that the new legislation enacted by power teams is going to have domino effects in other leagues.
In terms of future Boston College opponents, there is no absolute need for a league to add teams. That means the Big 12, even though it may want to expand, doesn't have to just for the sake of expansion. That means UConn isn't a lock for a power league. At the same time, UMass, a team that is without a home, will really need to sell itself over the next couple of seasons, otherwise it'll find itself in an unsustainable position as well.
All of this is speculation at best, conjecture that makes for a fun conversation. If nothing else, we'll always have Aggievision and "hucka chucka" football back in 2013. Whatever happens from here, know this - this is only the first domino, and we're likely to see something more happen as the next couple of years begin dawning.