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As Missouri Valley and Big Sky prepare for preseason media push, UND begins two-year stint in conference limbo

UND's Travis Toivonen and Patric Rooney celebrate a touchdown during an Oct. 7, 2017, game against Northern Colorado at the Alerus Center. Photo by Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald

In the coming weeks, the Big Sky Conference and Missouri Valley Football Conference will try to pump some interest into the 2018 college football season by releasing polls and preseason all-conference teams.

Leagues around the country use these items to increase exposure for member schools and get fans excited about the year ahead.

The UND football program, however, will be sitting on the sidelines for these hype builders. For the next two years, the Fighting Hawks are in conference limbo.

For the 2018 and 2019 seasons, UND will play a Big Sky schedule but operate as an independent, which means the Fighting Hawks won't be included in league polls, all-conference teams or weekly honors.

The Fighting Hawks also can't receive the league's automatic bid to the FCS playoffs that is awarded to the conference champion.

Mostly, though, that's a moot point considering if UND wins enough games to hypothetically be in the hunt for the league crown, the Hawks would make the playoff field of 24 regardless of the automatic bid.

"I think we were very up front with our guys," UND coach Bubba Schweigert said. "All the goals we have are out there for us. We want to be a team that can play one week at a time and earn a spot in the playoffs and give ourselves a chance in the tournament. If you win enough games, you're still able to do that.

"I think the university as a whole has to be a little aware that it's going to be a bit different. But as far as anticipation for this season, it doesn't feel any different around the office."

Beginning in the 2020 season, UND will join the Missouri Valley Football Conference, which is also home to regional rivals North Dakota State, South Dakota State and South Dakota.

To finish the 2017 season, UND landed three players on the all-Big Sky teams.

Junior running back John Santiago was a three-time selection to the offense's first team, while junior nose guard Tank Harris and junior linebacker Tanner Palmborg were first-time picks as members of the defense's third team.

Currently, UND's strength coaches are going through summer workouts with the team, which recently added a number of first-year players to campus.

The full team will report July 31 and go through NCAA meetings and paperwork Aug. 1. The first official practice is Aug. 2.

The Hawks open the season Aug. 30—a Thursday night—at home against Mississippi Valley State at 6:30 p.m. UND hasn't opened a season at the Alerus Center since hosting Valparaiso in 2013.

Tom Miller

Miller has been with the Grand Forks Herald sports department since 2004. He's also a Grand Forks native and UND graduate. 

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