Monday, July 1, 2013.
Today was supposed to be the day that Boise State football joined the Big East, with a group that will be known as the American Athletic Conference. The Aaaccckkk. Instead, the Broncos mercifully stay in the Mountain West. As the Big East eroded as a football conference, adding lower-echelon Conference USA programs like Memphis and Tulane, the pit in the Broncos’ collective stomach grew. It all worked out, and today the Mountain West grows by two schools, San Jose State and Utah State, both coming off landmark seasons in the final year of WAC football. So if teams like Colorado State, New Mexico, Hawaii and UNLV can pull themselves up by the bootstraps, it'll be a pretty good league.
Today begins Idaho’s final year as a member of the WAC in non-football sports, and its one year of football independence. Now, what’s ahead for Vandal football before it rejoins the Sun Belt next year? No possibility of all-conference teams, no championships, and reduced hopes of a bowl opportunity. Here’s the biggest challenge for Idaho going into independent status and on into the Sun Belt: putting bodies in the seats to demonstrate its viability as a member of the FBS. The Vandals averaged 12,582 fans in the Kibbie Dome last season, 117th in the FBS. That would have been 20th in the FCS. Even if the Vandals filled the Dome at 16,000 per game, its listed capacity, that would only rank 14th in the FCS in 2012. Attendance is really important.
Did I mention the WAC? If you haven't seen the conference’s new lineup together in one sentence yet, digest this. Idaho and fellow holdover New Mexico State will spend one year with Cal State Bakersfield, Grand Canyon, Texas-Pan American, Missouri-Kansas City (popularly known as UMKC), Seattle and Utah Valley. It's a new era for the WAC, and not a particularly pretty one. But the league is surviving.
Jordan Hankins, an 11th-round draft pick of the Cubs who joined the Boise Hawks last Thursday, went 0-fer in his first 12 Northwest League at-bats. The 13th was money, though, as Hankins drilled a two-run single in the eighth inning to lift the Hawks to a 6-5 victory over Eugene last night at Memorial Stadium. Boise swept its three-game series with the Emeralds and has now won four in a row to climb back over .500 at 9-8. Last night’s game can’t go without a mention of Yasiel Balaguert, and that usually means runs batted in. Balaguert got three more RBI with one swat, hammering a three-run homer in the third inning to get the Hawks on the board. The 20-year-old outfielder now has 22 RBI on the season and leads the league by seven.
If there’s one former Boise Hawk that’s fun to follow this year, it’s Josh Donaldson of the Oakland A’s. Donaldson reached base four times yesterday and hit a solo home run to give the A’s insurance in a 7-5 win over St. Louis. It was the 13th homer of the season and third in the past five games for the 27-year-old third baseman. Donaldson, who has become a key bat in the heart of Oakland’s order, raised his average to .316.
The one true local player to follow in the majors this summer, of course, is Stephen Fife. The Borah High alum and one-time South Central Boise Little League World Series participant won a second straight decision for the first time in his career yesterday as the L.A. Dodgers thumped Philadelphia, 6-1. Fife threw seven shutout innings, scattering four hits and walking just one batter as he went over .500 for the first time with a record of 3-2. And as he did when he made his big league debut in Fife’s first career victory, celebrated Dodger rookie Yasiel Puig was the offensive star. Puig tripled, doubled, and singled twice, giving him 44 hits in the month of June. That’s the second-most in the first month of a major league career to Joe DiMaggio in 1936.
Graham DeLaet is still searching for his first PGA Tour victory, but he’s sure making a nice living. DeLaet slipped after sitting in second place following the first round of the AT&T National in Bethesda, MD, last Thursday. But the former Boise State great rallied with a two-under 69 in yesterday’s final round to tie for ninth, the 11th top 10 result of his career and fifth this year. DeLaet went over the $1 million mark for the season last week at the Travelers Championship. By pocketing $175,500 at Congressional Country Club, he’s already topped $1.5 mil now (and $3.5 million for his career).
The intriguing story that came out of the first round of the Idaho Women’s Amateur last Thursday carried all the way through the weekend. Caldwell’s Gabby Barker, the Vallivue High senior-to-be, claimed her first state amateur championship after three close calls since 2010, taming the Jerome Country Club course at three-under par for the three-day tournament. Barker won the title by eight strokes over another Caldwell golfer—in fact, another Barker, her older sister Tyler. Yet another Caldwell player, College of Idaho standout Trsih Gibbens, tied for third with Buhl’s Sierra Harr nine shots back.
Incoming Boise State freshman Nick Duncan continues to shine for Australia at the FIBA U19 World Championships in Prague, Czech Republic. Duncan led the Aussies with 18 points as they wrapped up their Group C round robin Saturday with a 73-45 rout of Brazil. Duncan averaged 12.3 points and seven rebounds in group play. Australia advances to the round of 12 today to face China. The Emus play the United States tomorrow.
Idaho Stampede coach Mike Peck theorizes former Cal Star Allen Crabbe is the draft pick most likely to be assigned to Boise of the four taken last Thursday by the Portland Trail Blazers. I’m thinking 6-11 center Marko Todorovic, a second-round pick out of Regal Barcelona in Spain, could be another. Todorovic would benefit by getting stateside experience in the D-League. Peck will know soon enough as he’ll be working with the new additions alongside the Blazers’ coaching staff at the NBA Summer League in Las Vegas July 12-21.
This Day In Sports…July 1 in many a year:
The day when new conference affiliations traditionally take effect. On this day in 1970, Boise State officially became a member of the Big Sky. In 1996, Boise State and Idaho joined the Big West on July 1st. In 2001 on this day, BSU and Idaho went their separate ways—the Broncos off to the WAC while the Vandals began to split time with the Sun Belt (for football) and the Big West (for all other sports). Idaho joined Boise State in the WAC in 2005. The Broncos went to the Mountain West on this day in 2011. And today, the Vandals begin their one year of football independence.
(Tom Scott hosts the Scott Slant segment Sunday nights at 10:30PM on KTVB’s Sunday Sports Extra and anchors five sports segments each weekday on 93.1 The Ticket. He also served as color commentator on KTVB’s telecasts of Boise State football for 14 seasons.)