Does Idaho State University need a football team?

UPDATED Monday, Oct. 19, 2009, 8:20 a.m.

Head coach John Zamberlin will man the Bengals through 2011.Head coach John Zamberlin will man the Bengals through 2011.

Many are feeling stressed about the scores of Idahoans who have lost their jobs in this recession.

Idaho State University has not been immune to this problem. 70 faculty and staff were recently downsized and scores of other positions were left unfilled.

"In my experience, ISU has a diverse faculty of well-grounded people. Many come from hardscrabble backgrounds and they certainly know and care about their students," said biology professor David Delahanty. "Not only are faculty experiencing the challenges of the recession, they are interacting daily with students and parents who are being battered by this awful economic storm."

The former chair of the faculty senate added:

"Personally, I am advocating that ISU cut all or some of its NCAA athletics program and redirect the $3.1 million in state appropriated funds annually going to ISU athletics towards academic programs that benefit all students. ... no ISU program should be immune from scrutiny and evaluation."

In the midst of this turmoil, it is ironic to take note of an ISU employee who has been given a plum guarantee of job security.

ISU Director of Athletics Jeff Tingey said during a Thursday press conference that he’s as optimistic as ever that head coach John Zamberlin is the right guy to turn the football team around.

Two days later Northern Colorado held Idaho State -11 yards rushing, and sandwiched halftime with a pair of long touchdown marches as the Bears came away with a 30-7 win over Idaho State, ending their 19-game road losing streak and picking up their first ever Big Sky Conference road win. The Bengals, who dropped to 0-7 on the year, will now head to Northern Arizona on Saturday with a 19-game road skid of their own to break.

"Let’s hope (Tingey) is right, because ISU has rolled the dice," says an Idaho State Journal edtorial. The newspaper reminds us that "the university bought out the contract of its former head football coach, Larry Lewis, and he won some games."

Given ISU’s financial state, it would be irresponsible to buy out another coach. Like it or not, the university has made its decision and will have to stick with it — win, lose or draw.

The Journal states that ISU has taken a big gamble by re-signing Zamberlin to a new two-year contract:

Heading into Saturday’s (Northern Colorado) game, Zamberlin had accumulated a 4-25 record since arriving at ISU from Central Washington three years ago. That’s the second-worst winning percentage in ISU history.

In Zamberlin's defense, the athletic department states that since his hiring at ISU in late December of 2006, Zamberlin's record alone doesn't tell the whole story. In just three seasons, Zamberlin's Bengals have faced off against five FBS teams, including Boise State, Oregon State, Arizona State, and Oklahoma, and next year they will travel to face off against Georgia. ISU has also scheduled just 15 home games in his first three seasons compared to 19 road games, ISU said.

"John has been a tremendous ambassador to the university in both community service activities and in fundraising. He has led an effort with his team and staff to reach out and serve many organizations within our community. He has also played a key role in helping secure financial donations for the betterment of the entire athletic department," Tingey said. "Coach Zamberlin has stuck his name and record on the line for the betterment of the University in playing the type of schedule needed to offset the budget. This he has done without complaint."

The ISU administration also notes that Zamberlin's teams have not been without accolades, as in his first two seasons ISU has had four postseason All-America selections by the Sports Network, one preseason All-America pick, 27 All-Big Sky mentions, and 19 All-Big Sky Academic picks as well.

Coach Zamberlin is leading and directing his team in the direction that is needed for Idaho State University: He has raised retention rates; he has raised eligibility rates; and he has raised graduation rates; his athletes are contributing to the community and he has taken a very strict stance on accountability. (ISU is) pleased to have John continue as our head football coach.

The Journal also came to Zamberlin’s defense, to an extent, citing that he didn’t have much time to recruit for his initial class, and how a large number of players from his second class went on LDS missions. They said that his third class, the current group of freshmen, appears to be a strong one, and that it may represent the light at the end of the tunnel that ISU administrators and Athletic Director Jeff Tingey vow they see.

According to the Journal:

Zamberlin’s accomplishments have mostly been off the field. No doubt, shaping the character of his players, making sure they graduate and keeping his team active in the community falls under his job description. He’s done a good job in most of those areas. The eligibility rate and graduation rate of ISU football players have both increased under Zamberlin’s leadership. His players have also been civic-minded and served as positive role models for local youths. For example, they played a scrimmage on Friday at Chubbuck Elementary School to reward students for good behavior in the classroom. Prior to the scrimmage, players ventured into classrooms to discuss with students the importance of making good choices..

"But ultimately, Zamberlin was hired to win games, and the numbers aren’t on his side," the editorial continues. "Also, based on feedback from students and faculty about Zamberlin’s new contract and attendance at games this year, it’s clear the community is losing interest in the program."

Reader comments on the Journal website include:

Bengal Fan wrote on Oct 16:

As the football game score doesn't matter, perhaps ISU needs to return the new scoreboard so Idaho Potato Growers can give it to a school that cares about the game score. This is great philosophy for a pre-school, but is this what Idaho expects of collegate sports??? If ISU was just taking baby steps and improving a bit year by year, but from 3 wins in year one, one in year 2, and perhaps a perfect season in year 3. How many fans will still be in Holt at the end of the games next year?

dmr994 wrote on Oct 16, 2009 2:20 PM:

Maybe we should get rid of the football team in general and hire Zamberlin as a financial planner. This story sounds ridiculous. I'm an ISU alumni living in NY city, and have money. If ISU ever wants to see any of it the football better shift the focus from being a wandering welfare agency to winning some games.

olsencito wrote on Oct 16:

I would like to know what people actually like what he is doing. I don't know of anybody that does like what he is doing with the program. Also it is not about coming close to winning, its about winning and not being a traveling-circus for people to laugh at!

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Does Idaho State University need a football team?

If so, for what?

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Idaho State Bengal Football Meets Daily Kos

It's a smashmouth contest.

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123idaho's diary

No sports didn't hurt BYUI

While BYUI is a private university, the lack of league sports... goodbye, Vikings.... sure didn't hurt their enrollment any. When the College of Idaho dropped out of their league, it didn't hurt them either.

If the ISU students were diehard sports fans who turn out in big numbers, win or lose, it would be one thing, but as it is, the student body seems to be largely indifferent to team sports. Holt Arena is very seldom filled or close to it for home games. I don't see this changing, as the student body is older, many commute, and ISU has been plagued with team recruits that have gotten into cop trouble for years now. Holt Arena is aging, and needs an overhaul or replacement, and a proposed bond for the purpose was either defeated or didn't get to the ballot last year.

I honestly believe that the money could be put to much better use, and wider student use, elsewhere. ISU doesn't have the financial spare room to support a consistent failure any more.

Bad comparison, and unchanged over decades

First, you're claiming cause and effect when much stronger causes were in play. The Ricks to BYU-I transition happened at the same time they zapped sports, so it's easier for me to believe that the growth at BYU-I is due to the LDS church's mandating that BYU-I would go 4-year and pick up the tier-2 students overflowing from BYU.

Put another way, I believe that had they kept league sports at BYU-I, they'd have grown faster: at the least, several teams worth of students probably did pick a school with intercollegiate sports.

As for ISU, it isn't that ISU students can't be fans. It just takes a ludicrous amount of dedication to sit in a nosebleed section game after game and watch the home team lose. Mediocrity breeds apathy (yeah, I hear you muttering: Duh). People may say they root for underdogs but they show up to cheer on winners (institutional(izable) fans like the Cubs' are an exception).

Side note: it's been roughly twenty years since I about choked laughing at a classmate's shouting loudly at people in front of him at an ISU game: "Sit DOWN! I wanna watch the mama's boys go for another yardage loss!" The team sucked and the Dome was half-full. A few years before that, you couldn't buy beg or steal a seat when Machurek, DeBruijn and their cohorts were on their way to being national champions.

ISU Bengals = Can of WoopAss

Don't criticize them. They will come out here and ram the ball down your throat.

No BYUI claims here

Hi, d2...
I think the real reason the Vikings expired came from the church's desire to have the BYU team to be the only athletic presence. Provo is Utah, Rexburg is Idaho. Most folks in the rest of the country don't equate Idaho with the Mormon church.

You're right on... BYUI is 2nd tier, but apparently is serving another bunch of students altogether. Most of the student body now consists of returned missionaries, who are largely newly married. These folks were having a hard time getting into BYU for several reasons- money, lack of affordable housing, and an already full-up university. Rexburg has grown about 30% in size since the conversion to a 4 year school, and there is still plenty of room for more growth.

The season of misery continues

From the Times-News:

POCATELLO — The season of misery continued for the Idaho State football team, as the Bengals were beaten by Northern Arizona 50-10 at Holt Arena Saturday.

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