Update, April 27: Football Scoop reports Idaho will announce details of its FCS move on April 28. Also in the news is a push on Eastern Michigan's campus to drop down a level or two.
Original, March 1: The Sun Belt has announced its contracts with Idaho and New Mexico State will not be renewed, forcing both programs to become independents after 2017. Thanks to adding Coastal Carolina and new NCAA legislation that would allow it to hold a conference championship with 10 teams, the Sun Belt decided that having two members all the way across the country is no longer necessary.
It seems Idaho's sad PowerPoint was not enough to change minds.
Idaho has two choices. It could remain in FBS as an independent, hoping to build enough to gain conference affiliation at a later date. In in January, Idaho president Chuck Staben said, "that alternative doesn't look attractive to me," given scheduling difficulties, a lack of defined rivals, and financial insecurity. Or the Vandals could move back to FCS and join the Big Sky Conference.
The Big Sky has not been shy about wanting Idaho (the Vandals are conference members for every other sport) and has extended an invitation for 2018. Given the lack of options (sources tell SB Nation that the Mountain West would not be interested), this appears likely.
New Mexico State's next steps appear less clear. Unlike Idaho, the Aggies do not have a built-in FCS home, as they compete in the WAC for their other sports, a conference that does not sponsor football. They could attempt to play as an independent, hoping for a position in Conference USA, or move down to FCS.
Both have struggled at the FBS level. New Mexico State has not made a bowl since the 1960 Sun Bowl and hasn't finished with a winning record since 2002. Idaho hasn't been much better, with only two bowl appearances ever, most recently in 2009. According to Sagarin ratings, neither would've ranked in the Big Sky's top four in 2015.
A drop out of FBS doesn't seem unreasonable. But in an era of massive financial gaps between the haves and have-nots, might other FBS programs also elect to drop down? That doesn't appear likely. Here's why.
Dropping down in football might not actually save money
We looked at this with Hawaii, another program that has struggled on the field and has geographic challenges.
Dropping football means giving up revenue streams. It means giving up road-game contracts, and it means losing access to College Football Playoff and conference revenue sharing. And that's to say nothing of the impact on alumni giving or sponsorship.
For Group of Five programs, those checks aren't very big, but neither are the football expenses. When you look at football in the context of the entire athletic department, cutting off revenue will rarely make financial sense.
Dropping football could jeopardize conference affiliation in other sports
When UAB decided to drop football under the guise of budgeting, the decision had an unforeseen side effect: it could have impacted its Conference USA membership in other sports.
Not every conference is interested in affiliate membership. That can cost a school even more money or damage successful programs in other sports. This isn't much of an issue for Idaho or New Mexico State, but having to find a new home other sports is a headache few FBS programs would be excited about taking on.
Schools sponsor FBS football programs for reasons other than money and bowl success
If profitability and bowl trophies were the only reasons schools competed in FBS, maybe a few more could be persuaded to drop down. But universities believe high-level football has other benefits.
If you look at feasibility studies conducted by schools trying to figure out if they should start a team, like Georgia State or Charlotte, officials tout the fact that football teams increase the exposure and marketability of the university, help foster a campus identity and have a variety of other intangible benefits.
Idaho, New Mexico State and UAB are unique cases
We've had three schools now that have, or could potentially, leave FBS in recent memory, but all three have extenuating factors that don't apply to many other schools.
UAB's decision to cancel football had more to do with university politics, and the Blazers decided to reinstate their program anyway. Both Idaho and New Mexico State face geographic isolation, lack of access to top recruits and conference homelessness. Those may prove to be bridges too far, but if NMSU and Idaho were both say, under-.500 Mountain West programs, there isn't a reason to think they'd be on the verge of dropping down.
Few other FBS programs can point to similar instability. There are currently too many perceived positives to FBS membership. After all, other schools would still love to make the jump, even if a path towards competitiveness may seem slim, such as Eastern Kentucky, which is willing to spend $10 million for a call up.
The gap between the haves and have-nots is stark, and the situations around Idaho and New Mexico State are sad, but there isn't much of a reason to think other schools will join them in the near future.