UND athletic conference search heats upUND athletic director Brian Faison projects the Summit League and Big Sky Conference will make decisions on whether to admit UND in early December.
By: Tom Miller, Grand Forks Herald
At a press conference at Hyslop Sports Center on Tuesday afternoon, UND athletic director Brian Faison wouldn’t confirm what most speculated Monday: That the Summit League moved up its on-campus visit by a month because of the Big Sky Conference’s growing interest in UND.
Faison, however, would say that UND is entertaining discussions with both leagues.
Both the Summit and the Big Sky have expressed interest in adding UND as a conference member. On Monday, the Summit announced it would conduct an on-site visit to UND on Nov. 1-2. The visit was originally scheduled for the end of November.
“It’s nice to have options,” Faison said, “but the reality is until you get that call that says ‘we would like to extend a formal invitation to join. . .’
“Whether those options play out or not we will see. Frankly, though, two years ago we didn’t (have options) and that was a real concern.”
Faison said he expects conference decisions to come down by early December.
“We will operate at the timelines they dictate,” Faison said. “We don’t drive that train. The Summit League is on track for a final decision probably in the first part of December. We would hope that the Big Sky would be in that same time frame — the sooner the better obviously from our standpoint.”
Although Faison said Summit League commissioner Tom Douple didn’t say why the conference decided to move up its visit, he also didn’t squelch the Big Sky theory.
“He did not (give any reason),” Faison said. “Tom hasn’t spoken to that nor would I expect him to, but certainly that’s a consideration I wouldn’t be surprised at.
“(Douple) has been in consultation with his athletic directors. We have submitted a series of materials and forwarded that in two weeks ago. I assume he looked through those materials and decided to move things up. It’s definitely a good sign for UND. We’re certainly excited that the process is moving more rapidly. We have scheduling and all sorts of other issues that are time-related and that are facilitated by (the Summit League) decision.”
The Summit’s interest in UND has been ongoing for some time, although the league wouldn’t consider the school for full membership until the Fighting Sioux nickname and logo controversy had been resolved.
Levels of interest
The interest is two-sided. UND’s desire for the Summit surrounds its ability to reunite the Sioux with former conference rivals North Dakota State and South Dakota State. South Dakota is also scheduled to become a Summit member in July of next year.
However, the Summit does not sponsor football. Finding a conference home for football is one of UND’s primary concerns as it transitions into Division I athletics.
That’s the appeal of the Big Sky, a conference that does sponsor football. Faison said he had spoken to Big Sky commissioner Doug Fullerton within the past week.
“They have their process they’re working to, and we’re trying to address any information and questions they have along the way.
“We’re clearly in the mix. We’re definitely on the table. Whether other schools are on the table . . .?”
Faison said a lot of the Big Sky’s actions hinge on the decisions made at the University of Montana, which has recently had a very public debate about whether it should stay in the FCS or pursue FBS options.
“Montana has been wooed by the WAC (Western Athletic Conference),” Faison said, “and that could shake things up.
“The Big Sky has more advantages to us with Montana in the conference. They’ve had a strong football program, good runs in men’s basketball and their women’s sports are strong. If they leave, though, I still think the league is very viable for us.
“Hopefully, Montana makes a decision soon.”
An all-or-nothing deal
Although current fellow Great West Conference members Cal Poly and Cal Davis were invited to the Big Sky as football-only affiliates, Faison said no such offer has been extended to UND.
“Football-only has not been afforded us from the Big Sky. The discussion has been strictly as a full member. We’ve certainly asked the question about affiliated membership, but they’re really only considering us as a full member.”
With football-only membership to the Big Sky apparently not in the picture, what does that mean for football should the Summit League come calling?
“There is conversation with the Missouri Valley and the Summit making some sort of alliance for football. Nothing firm on that, but that’s something floating out there.”
The concern, though, is the uncertainty of a timeline regarding such collaboration.
“It would be great if it was decided yesterday, but the timing we don’t control,” Faison said. “We just have to find the best home for our football team.”
As for the Summit visit, Faison said at least seven individuals will arrive in Grand Forks on Oct. 31. They will be on campus Nov. 1-2.
“They’ll visit with coaches, support staff, university administrators, boosters and student-athletes,” Faison said. “They’ll go on a campus tour and look at facilities. It’s a pretty involved process. It’s every bit of two full days.”
After the site visit, the Summit officials will submit a written report to the president’s council.
After that, “hopefully they’ll recommend approval and extend us an invitation,” Faison said. “The site visit is definitely an audition. It’s the next step and really the last step before a final decision.”
Miller reports on sports. Reach him at (701) 780-1121; (800) 477-6572, ext. 121; or send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.