Is Big Sky UND's new home?The Summit League’s official site visit scheduled for UND next week was canceled Friday, leading to speculation that the Big Sky Conference will become the new home for Fighting Sioux athletics.
By: Wayne Nelson, Grand Forks Herald
The Summit League’s official site visit scheduled for UND next week was canceled Friday, leading to speculation that the Big Sky Conference will become the new home for Fighting Sioux athletics.
UND announced that it, not the league, had canceled the scheduled visit by the Summit delegation.
That leaves the door open for UND to join the Big Sky Conference, which has expressed serious interest in adding the school to its membership for the last two months.
UND athletic director Brian Faison had no comment on why UND canceled the upcoming visit from the Summit.
Big Sky commissioner Doug Fullerton also was not available for comment Friday. League spokesman Jon Kasper said Fullerton spent much of the afternoon on conference calls.
However, if the Big Sky is ready to announce UND’s addition to the league, the announcement could come soon.
“I would expect something on Monday,” said Kasper, the league’s media relations director.
It also appears that South Dakota and Southern Utah will be offered full membership into the league. If so, the Big Sky would become a 12-team conference stretching from California to North Dakota.
For football, however, the league will include 14 teams if UND, USD and Southern Utah all join the Big Sky. Earlier this year, the Big Sky added Cal Poly and UC Davis as football-only members.
Finding a home for UND football was a top priority in the school’s search for a stable Division I conference. The Big Sky opportunity offers UND a football home. The Summit, however, does not offer football.
But there was some speculation that the Summit and Missouri Valley Football Conference — currently a nine-team league that includes North Dakota State and South Dakota State — would eventually merge, meaning there could be a future home for Sioux football. NDSU and SDSU also belong to the Summit.
However, it became apparent in the past few weeks that not enough progress had taken place along those lines to ensure UND a football home in a Summit/Missouri Valley arrangement.
South Dakota athletic officials have been monitoring UND’s situation with the Summit closely. But South Dakota officials didn’t have much to say after UND canceled the upcoming Summit visit from a six-member delegation.
“It doesn’t have a direct relationship with what we’re doing,” South Dakota athletic director David Sayler said. “But the decisions of North Dakota and Southern Utah do play into the landscape of the decisions our board of regents have to make, along with our president Jim Abbott.”
South Dakota was scheduled to join the Summit in 2011 but, like UND, had concerns about what would happen to its football program without a stable conference.
If UND is accepted as a Big Sky member, Montana would become an immediate rival for the Sioux.
Montana, the most successful football program in the Big Sky, has been rumored as one school that may move up to the Western Athletic Conference, an FBS league that will eventually lose Boise State, Fresno State and Nevada.
But the speculation surrounding Montana’s potential move has tempered a bit in recent weeks.
Current Big Sky members include Montana, Montana State, Idaho State, Eastern Washington, Portland State, Weber State of Utah, Northern Arizona, Sacramento State and Northern Colorado.
The league was founded in 1963.
Nelson reports on sports. Reach him at (701) 780-1268; (800) 477-6572, ext. 268; or send e-mail to email@example.com.