Big Sky expansion talks focus on UNDBig Sky presidents to meet this week; league will consider adding Sioux athletics
By: Wayne Nelson, Grand Forks Herald
Later this week, UND may find out how much interest the Big Sky Conference has in the school’s athletic program.
If there is a lot of interest, UND’s days as a homeless transitional Division I athletic program could be numbered.
But that’s a big if.
Presidents from the nine schools that comprise the Big Sky Conference will meet Tuesday and Wednesday in Park City, Utah, to discuss league expansion. And UND is right in the middle of any expansion talk.
“The No. 1 issue on the table is expansion,” Big Sky commissioner Doug Fullerton said.
UND is an attractive candidate for the Big Sky. But that doesn’t mean UND will be offered an invitation. Then again, anything is possible.
“(A decision) could happen (this) week,” he said.
Fullerton, however, said league solidarity is needed for any invitation offered by the Big Sky. Whether all the Big Sky presidents are in agreement that UND is a good fit for the league remains to be seen.
“If you can’t get all of the presidents going in the same direction, you don’t go in any direction,” Fullerton said. “We try and talk this thing around until we get everybody lined up. But we would rather delay (a decision) than to create something that would destabilize something we already have.”
Tumultuous times exist in college athletics, and the Big Sky is no exception.
Montana — the league’s most recognized school — is considering a move up to FBS competition. If Montana leaves, the Big Sky would be down to eight full members. Montana’s move, conceivably, could benefit UND.
Recently, the Big Sky added Cal Poly and UC Davis as football-members only. But football-only membership for UND apparently is not on the table.
Sioux football is a major focal point in UND’s search for a Division I conference. Only two realistic possibilities exist for a stable football home for the Sioux — the Big Sky or a league existing of schools in the Summit League and Missouri Valley Football Conference.
But talk of a possible Summit-MVFC merger apparently has not made much progress, leaving that option up in the air for UND.
Athletic directors from the Big Sky met earlier this month, Fullerton said. League expansion was discussed at that meeting as well.
“They (athletic directors) were very supportive of both Dakota schools,” Fullerton said.
By mentioning both Dakota schools, South Dakota — another school making the transition to Division I athletics — also appears to be on the Big Sky expansion radar. South Dakota, however, is headed for Summit League membership in 2011 but, like UND, the Coyotes also are looking for a stable home for their football program. And the Big Sky would provide that home.
The Summit, meanwhile, will conduct its official UND visit Nov. 1-2. The league pushed up the timetable for its trip to UND after it became apparent that the Big Sky also was considering the school for membership.
Geography, however, could be the ultimate factor working against UND. If the league expands as far east as UND, the Big Sky would be stretched across three time zones. Some of the Big Sky presidents may be opposed to UND simply because of logistical concerns.
Regardless, the next few days could help shape the picture as to the future home of UND athletics, whether it will be the Big Sky or Summit.
Both leagues have placed expansion on the fast track.
Fullerton, however, said he couldn’t predict what will take place at the two-day Big Sky presidents’ retreat in Utah.
“We’ve really been up front in this process,” Fullerton said.
Nelson reports on sports. Reach him at (701) 780-1268 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting (701) 780-1268 end_of_the_skype_highlighting begin_of_the_skype_highlighting (701) 780-1268 end_of_the_skype_highlighting; (800) 477-6572, ext. 268; or send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.