Rumors that Idaho could join the growing Sun Belt Conference as soon as Thursday appear to be true, per various reports:
The State Board of Education unanimously votes in approval of Idaho accepting an invitation to the Sun Belt as football only member— Vandal Nation (@VandalNation) March 27, 2013
Rob Spear confirmed UI will become football members of Sun Belt. Karl Benson will address media at 4 p.m. PT and Spear will talk at 4:30.— Joshua Wright (@SR_JoshWright) March 27, 2013
The Sun Belt makes it official — New Mexico State and Idaho will join the Sun Belt as football-only members on July 1, 2014— Vandal Nation (@VandalNation) March 27, 2013
Although it seems somewhat crazy that Idaho, essentially on the other side of the country from the geographic Sun Belt, would join a conference named after that region, but its a move that makes sense -- and its not the first time the Vandals have been in the league.
After transitioning from FCS play to the FBS, Idaho played in the Sun Belt from 2000 to 2004. However, they filled a vacancy in the more geographically convenient WAC when Rice, SMU, and Tulsa left that conference in 2005. However, the WAC's time as a football league has come to an end, beginning with the departure of Boise State, continueing with Nevada leaving, and now with everybody scattering to leagues around the country. Left in the lurch were the Vandals, who were all set to play as an independent team -- fine for teams like Notre Dame, but not easy for a low-tier FBS team like Idaho.
The Vandals are transitioning to the Big Sky in most sports, but that doesn't sponsor FBS football. So while their non-revenue sports can stay close to home, they can avoid scheduling mix-ups and guarantee opponents for the gridiron squad, which works out perfectly.
With Georgia Southern and Appalachian State joining the fold and JMU a potential member, it was already known the non-BCS conference was adding a few squads from a lower tier of football. If the other shoe drops on New Mexico State, they'll also add several teams from the WAC.