A group of Idaho State University football boosters and alumni, including well-known Pocatello car dealer Phil Meador, are calling for the removal of the school’s president and athletic director.
The ISU Football Alumni Team, also known as FAT, is withholding from the school close to $80,000 in fundraising money until the changes are made because of what the group calls the horrible state of ISU athletics.
FAT board member Jason Whitmer told the Journal the 14 members of the FAT board voted unanimously to withhold the funds until ISU President Arthur Vailas and Director of Athletics Jeff Tingey are removed from their positions.
Tingey has been ISU’s athletic director since 2009, and Vailas has been president since 2006. Both were given salary increases in June by the State Board of Education.
Whitmer and Meador were among the individuals who signed their names to a FAT opinion column published in the Journal on Sunday calling for the end of the Vailas-Tingey era.
When interviewed on Monday, Tingey disputed nearly every alleged failure outlined in the column.
“That op-ed piece (Sunday) was very misleading,” Tingey said. “It skipped over the truth in a lot of places and cited sources that I really question because they were blatantly false.”
The column stated that ISU’s planned resurfacing of the track at Davis Field was delayed due to a lack of funding, and that ISU would no longer be able to host the Big Sky Track and Field Conference Championships. Tingey rebutted that claim, saying the university is complying with Idaho’s Department of Public Works to have the track redone in time to host the 2019 conference championships.
“Being a state institution, we don’t tell the state when they’re going to allow us to do things,” Tingey said. “They tell us when we’ve been approved. That’s how it goes. We’re on schedule.”
Tingey also argued against FAT’s claim that there are no renovations planned for Holt Arena, the home of ISU’s football team.
“In the past five years, the university has spent a million dollars of raised funds for the field in Holt Arena,” Tingey said. “Last year, we spent $200,000 to upgrade the WiFi, another $200,000 to upgrade the restrooms and concessions stands.
“We raised $100,000 to completely renovate the football locker room. We raised $500,000 for a new video board, another million dollars for the practice football field on the south side of Holt Arena, and then currently, Holt Arena is getting new lights installed at a price of $500,000 and the parking lot is currently being resurfaced.”
Tingey also said the column’s assertion that ISU’s academic standards are the highest in the Big Sky Conference is untrue. Tingey said Montana, Montana State, Weber State, Sacramento State, Cal Poly and UC Davis have higher academic standards than ISU.
“A better school to compare us to is the University of Idaho,” Tingey said. “Ours are the same.”
In regards to FAT writing that ISU has the lowest athletic budget in the Big Sky, Tingey said the school ranks somewhere in the middle of the conference.
“Yes, there are some schools who have budgets that are significantly higher than ours,” Tingey said. “Montana, Montana State, Eastern Washington and North Dakota have budgets that are anywhere from $500,000 to $3 million larger than ours. Their annual giving from their donor base is significantly higher than ours.”
“But,” Tingey continued, “there are three schools in the conference who have basically the same budget that we do: Northern Arizona, Portland State and Sacramento State. Three schools have budgets that are smaller than ours: Northern Colorado, Weber State and Southern Utah.”
Vailas issued a statement Monday voicing his support for Tingey.
“In my review of ISU’s athletic director, I looked at numerous performance measures, not only in football,” Vailas said in his statement. “I measured Jeff’s successes using a number of metrics across the board. Under his leadership, fundraising is up, from both individuals and our business partners. We also continue to make improvements across all sport programs, including APR scores, facilities upgrades, gender equity and on-the-field successes. Despite what a few vocal community members may believe, Idaho State is not at the bottom of the Big Sky Conference. We will have success in football this season.”
FAT strongly disagrees that ISU athletics are headed in the right direction.
Whitmer, an ISU Hall of Fame football player, said that although FAT’s mission is to aid ISU’s student-athletes, the failures of the school’s athletic department and administration, combined with the recent raises for both Vailas and Tingey, warranted the decision to withhold the nearly $80,000 in funds.
“We are in an eight-year downhill skid,” Whitmer said. “Sometimes, it has to get worse before it gets better. Our mission is 100 percent for the kids, but we can’t continue on down this path for another minute.”
Whitmer said around $50,000 of the funds were raised at June’s FAT Golf Scramble in Pocatello involving well-known ISU alums Dirk Koetter, head coach of the NFL’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and Merill Hoge, a former NFL running back. The rest of the nearly $80,000 is from FAT membership dues.
Tingey said he had not been notified that the FAT funds were being withheld until he was interviewed by the Journal on Monday.
“That seems like a scary proposal,” Tingey said. “Many boosters, many ISU fans, give to FAT in good faith that they give to FAT knowing that money is going to go to the student-athletes in the same year to benefit them.”
Meador, who hosted the FAT Golf Scramble meet and greet at his Toyota car dealership in Pocatello, said the state of ISU athletics is the worst it has been in more than three decades.
Meador said that between cash donations and allowing ISU’s coaches to use vehicles from his lots, his average annual contribution to ISU is $22,000.
Meador pointed to ISU’s lack of success in football and men’s basketball as selling points to attend college elsewhere.
“We have seen glimmers of hope,” Meador said. “A couple successful seasons. It doesn’t take much to get us all excited and happy. But those small number of years don’t overshadow the negative impact that our current program has.”
Meador continued, “We have a lot of people that come out of Southeast Idaho that go to Boise (State University). Not because Boise’s a better school, but their athletic programs are incredible. It’s fun to go to a game at Boise State. People like to be a part of that.”
Meador says ISU will remain on a downward trajectory with the current administration at the helm.
“We need administrative change,” Meador said. “And not just change. We have to have leaders that are qualified. I do not believe the current administration has the skillset to do what’s needed for the future of Idaho State’s athletic program.”