University of Idaho President Chuck Staben is living on borrowed time. His days are numbered and the reason is simple: He just doesn’t get the fact that in today’s environment of winners and losers, the key to the perception that a university is exceptional and successful is whether it has a winning football (and to a somewhat lesser degree a winning basketball) program.
A statewide survey the University commissioned four years ago appears not to have been read by the then new and incoming president. That survey indisputably demonstrated that Idahoans all across the state rate Boise State number #1 in almost all categories measured. This position of superiority is a direct outcome of BSU’s football and basketball success.
When alumni identify with a university’s success they more quickly reach for their checkbooks. This becomes self-sustaining and self-fulfilling as success breeds more success. Respondents to the survey appear to believe that BSU is more efficiently run, a safer campus with a better faculty, and a better school for delivering a post graduate job. Few of these views are correct.
Staben’s major sin was deciding Idaho would be better off dropping down to the second tier FCS (Football Championship, the former Division I-AA) Big Sky Conference as opposed to staying at the FBS (Football Bowl - the big dogs like the PAC-12) level.
In Staben’s defense he did talk to the university’s many shareholders and did contract with Collegiate Consultants to review athletic spending at both peer universities and other schools. Staben is keenly aware that the Spokane television market is large enough to support just one major collegiate program, and in the Inland northwest that is Washington State in football and Gonzaga in basketball.
Idaho, Eastern Washington and Montana have to scramble for the crumbs left over.
Ironically, Staben’s decision comes in a year when the Vandals have a shot at the six wins needed to qualify for an invite to a bowl. Coach Petrino appears to have turned the program around, but to the chagrin of Athletic Director Rob Spear (whose crunching of the numbers shows it may cost Idaho more to step down) it may be too little too late.
It's not so much Staben’s decision, it's how he made it and when. Also, many are speculating who he listened to last before deciding. Critics are especially angered that Staben announced his decision in April after promising to wait until the fall football season was over. They also point to his use of the Operational Study by Collegiate Consulting not released until May 2nd but cited in April as part of the justification.
Many of Staben’s critics are large athletic donors who feel he lied to them by making a premature announcement. They charge Staben with deliberately sabotaging ticket sales and contributions to assist in making his decision a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Furthermore, Staben allegedly claimed the Big Sky Conference had given Idaho a “drop dead” date for deciding, which the Big Sky commissioner later denied.
Staben is further faulted for not really listening to those with differing opinions, and for who he does listen to last. Some point to Mike Parry as one of those overly influencing Staben. Others throw out other names.
Parry came to Idaho as part of a “package deal” that brought his spouse, Mary Kay McFadden, the highly successful vice president of development, family and alumni relations at Olin College of Engineering in Needham, Massachusetts, back to Idaho as the new vice president for advancement.
Whoever or whatever, Staben was led to believe a solid majoriy of large donors supported the move to the Big Sky.
This is absolutely not true critics say and claim Staben can cite few large athletic donors other than former interim Idaho president Gary Michael (the former chief exeuctive of Albertson’s ) and former Vandal football coach Keith Gilbertson, who now resides in Coeur d’Alene, as move supporters.
Staben does appear to have a tin ear regarding Idaho politics and just how political his job is. He is faulted for awarding much higher salaries to his new hires. Critics charge this has come at the expense of increasing student tuition which in turn has led to declining enrollment that is fast becoming a major issue within the university community.
Additionally, they point out Idaho no longer participates in the “good neighbor” tuition reduction program that used to be in place for applicants from any state touching Idaho’s borders.
Staben also received some poor advice telling him that it was illegal to offer a tuition reduction incentive program for alumni children to enroll at the University of Idaho. He also has long promised to start acting on a strategic plan that would restore the image and prestige of the University. So far little success has been noted.
Critics note the Idaho Board of Education which has the dual duty of being the University’s Board of Regents, appears to be totally in the thrall of Boise State partisans.
The real bottom line here, and why Staben should dust off his resume, is he has lost all credibility with a major constituency of the University of Idaho. When a chief executive of any kind of entity loses his credibility, its best for both the executive and the entity that the person pack his bags.