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UND ATHLETICS: Big Sky reacts to UND's budget announcement

Big Sky Conference commissioner Andrea Williams knows that UND is launching a committee that will take a look at the athletic department, including conference affiliation.

New President Mark Kennedy has openly questioned whether the Big Sky is the right fit.

Does that chatter bother the league?

"Not at all," Williams said. "They are figuring out, from an institutional financial perspective, what they need to do. They recognize the strengths of the Big Sky. As an institution, they have other challenges and hurdles.

"We've had an open dialogue with the university. They're under new leadership now from an institutional standpoint. It's absolutely within their right to evaluate and review everything in terms of financials, logistics, staffing. . . and that's what they're going through right now."

UND would likely save money by moving most athletic teams to the Summit League, which is the home of North Dakota State, South Dakota and South Dakota State. But the Summit League doesn't sponsor football.

So, if UND was to try to make a move to the Summit, it would have to find affiliate membership for the football program in the Missouri Valley Football Conference or it would need the Big Sky to allow it to stay for football only.

NDSU, USD and SDSU are members of the Missouri Valley football only. MVFC commissioner Patti Viverito declined to discuss potential expansion with the Herald.

When asked whether the Big Sky would be open to allowing UND to stay as a football-only member, Williams said: "They would first have to make that inquiry. Then, that would be something that our presidents and administrators would have to discuss."

Williams, who came to the Big Sky from the Big Ten office, said she understands UND's challenges in the Big Sky. UND is unable to bus to a single conference opponent, racking up costs in flights and hotels.

"Universities do have to put how they manage their business under a stronger lens," Williams said. "So, being able to identify what their priorities are—that's an area of focus for them. They have to figure out a way to optimize revenue. I expected them to do that. There are unique nuances with North Dakota geographically. We're all aware of that. Regular season travel for all sports is something they need to look at. It's been a conversation piece within league as to how we better manage scheduling parameters."

Williams said the Big Sky wasn't caught off guard with UND's decision to take a deep look at its athletics program.

"I don't think anyone is surprised with President Kennedy's announcement," Williams said. "We continue to have open conversations."

Brad Elliott Schlossman

Schlossman is in his 12th year covering college hockey for the Herald. In 2016, he was named the top beat writer in the country by the Associated Press Sports Editors. He has voted in the national college hockey poll since 2007 and has served as a member of the Hobey Baker and Patty Kazmaier Award committees.

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