UND ATHLETICS: Fullerton sees UND making smooth move to Big SkyDoug Fullerton has been commissioner of the Big Sky Conference for the past 17 years. Before that, he was the athletic director at Montana State. While in Bozeman, Fullerton became familiar with the strength of the four major Dakota schools. The Bobcats were a Division II program up until 1978 and the football team routinely faced UND up until 1983.
By: Tom Miller, Grand Forks Herald
Doug Fullerton has been commissioner of the Big Sky Conference for the past 17 years. Before that, he was the athletic director at Montana State.
While in Bozeman, Fullerton became familiar with the strength of the four major Dakota schools. The Bobcats were a Division II program up until 1978 and the football team routinely faced UND up until 1983.
“People around there fondly recall those games,” Fullerton said.
Fullerton is confident those rivalries can be rekindled when UND joins the Big Sky in the fall after finishing the school’s five-year transition to Division I athletics.
The regional rivalry also is one of the reasons why the conference leader thinks the Sioux will be a strong addition, despite being geographically isolated from the Western-based league.
“Maybe deep down in their heart, some would rather not travel out there (to Grand Forks),” Fullerton said. “But we made a commitment because UND was the right kind of institution. That’s such a key for us. Unlike other conferences, our stability comes from finding similar institutions and regional rivalries. UND might be out of the footprint a little, but there’s a great history between North Dakota and Montana schools.”
Fullerton has kept tabs on UND’s transition and doesn’t foresee any issues.
“I think they’ll make the transition very quickly,” he said. “Competitively, I don’t think they’re at the top of our league right now, but they’re competitive, which is important out of the blocks. And we knew that about UND. They have enough resources and tradition to get it done.”
UND will be joining one of the most secure conferences in the country during a time of league upheaval in college athletics.
Fullerton said the Big Sky is in a strong position to attract recruits and media attention. He feels the league is the third-highest profile football conference in the West behind the PAC-12 and Mountain West after the near-demise of the Western Athletic Conference.
“We’re big and stable,” Fullerton said. “That doesn’t mean we quit paying attention to what’s going on. Things happen in a hurry. The opportunities for the Big Sky in the future are terrific.”
The Big Sky will have 11 all-sports members and 13 football-playing schools when the Sioux join.
The Big Sky would like to move to an even number of teams, both in all sports (12) and football (14). The University of Idaho, which is one of only two football-playing schools left in the decimated WAC, is being targeted as that final school.
“Idaho is a perfect match for the Big Sky,” Fullerton said. “If they join us, within a couple of years, they would have a better athletic program.”
Idaho, a former Big Sky member, left the Football Championship Subdivision (formerly D-IAA) for the Football Bowl Subdivision (D-IA) in 1996.
The Vandals, who have limited remaining options at the FBS level, have had fleeting success at the higher tier, but it would be an unprecedented move to drop back to the Big Sky.
Fullerton guessed early July for Idaho to make decisions on its FCS-FBS dilemma.
Miller reports on sports. Reach him at (701) 780-1121; (800) 477-6572, ext. 121; or send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.