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Quest of the West

The Great West Football Conference needs teams. UND and the University of South Dakota need a conference. They continue to move forward in hopes of reaching an agreement that will put them all together. The league's athletic directors reviewed ea...

The Great West Football Conference needs teams. UND and the University of South Dakota need a conference.

They continue to move forward in hopes of reaching an agreement that will put them all together.

The league's athletic directors reviewed each school's letter of interest during a conference call this month and advised the league to move forward.

"There's interest on both sides," said Ed Grom, Great West commissioner.

If the two schools are added to the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision league, it would start with the 2009 season. The term Football Championship Subdivision is the former Division I-AA.

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"It (2009) is not perfect, but we're not in the driver's seat on it," UND athletic director Tom Buning said.

Grom said the league also is considering two other schools "out west," but he declined to name them. One of the schools mentioned for the Great West is the University of San Diego.

Bison might be

a short-termer

The league needs teams badly.

The football-only Great West, which was formed in 2004 with seven teams, currently has five members: North Dakota State, South Dakota State, California Poly, California Davis and Southern Utah.

NDSU and SDSU, however, will be the subject of a Gateway Football Conference expansion meeting on Monday.

The Bison are interested in the Gateway, a seven-team league that qualified X teams for last season's FCS playoffs.

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"If the offer came, there is no question," NDSU athletic director Gene Taylor said of the Gateway.

Grom said he talked with NDSU president Joseph Chapman this week about conference affiliation.

"We'd love to keep them in the Great West," Grom said.

Buning, meanwhile, said UND's focus has been on the Great West. "The Gateway is in many ways full and the Great West is in a building mode," he said.

The Sioux athletic director hopes UND can get into position to join the Mid-Continent Conference, where the Sioux could play many of their other sports, by becoming a member of the Great West.

NDSU and SDSU will join the Mid-Con next fall.

"Because their leadership oversees the Great West Football Conference, the football will become the tip of the spear going forward," Buning said. "It's a great way to introduce the members and that leadership to the rest of our programs."

Still waiting

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Buning said UND also sent a letter of interest to the Big Sky Conference.

"We sent the same things to the Big Sky," Buning said. "All things being equal, the Big Sky has yet to act or even schedule conversations on expansion as a membership. They have yet to formally open those discussions."

UND and South Dakota will begin their five-year reclassification periods next year. Both will still be in Division II for 2007-08 as part of an exploratory year.

Grom said 2009 would be the earliest the two schools could be added to the Great West because they will not be considered Division I "counters" until then. A victory over a non-counter school does not help an FCS team's cause to make the playoffs.

"It would force our schools to play one more non-I-A game, and I think schools would be reluctant to do that," Grom said.

Because of the one-year waiting period after UND turns Division I, Buning said it will be difficult for the Sioux to schedule football games in 2008.

But it's expected the Sioux will try and schedule as many Great West teams as possible before the 2009 target date for full conference affiliation.

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